The Legislature approved two bills Thursday to expand Medi-Cal coverage to more than 1 million low-income California residents under the federal health care overhaul.
Assembly Bill 1x1 now heads to the Senate, after passing the Assembly 53-22. The Senate sent the Assembly a similar Medi-Cal expansion bill, Senate Bill 1x1 by Sen. Ed Hernandez, D-West Covina, on a 24-7 vote.
"Expanding health coverage to low-income adults will ensure Californians have access to care, which will help ensure a more healthy workforce and implementing the expansion will bring billions of federal dollars to the California economy," Hernandez, said.
Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, D-Los Angeles, wrote AB 1x1, and said it is an important step to ensuring people living significantly below the poverty line have access to quality care. In addition to expanding eligibility, Perez's bill aims to streamline enrollment to reduce the time it takes to receive coverage.
Under the health care law pushed by President Barack Obama, most Americans will be required to buy health insurance by January 2014 or pay a penalty. The tab for the California Medi-Cal expansion will be picked up by the federal government for the first three years. In subsequent years, the federal government will cover 90 percent of the cost.
In California, more than 7 million people are covered under Medi-Cal. The expansion would result in 1 million to 1.6 million Californians enrolling in Medi-Cal beginning in 2014, according to UCLA and UC Berkeley estimates.
Both the Senate and Assembly bills extend coverage to adults under 65 who don't have children living at home. It raises the ceiling on income for eligibility to 138 percent of the federal poverty level - or under $16,000.
Assemblyman Tim Donnelly, R-Twin Peaks, and other Republicans in the Assembly questioned whether California would be left with the entire bill for the massive expansion.
"Why don't we lead the nation instead of following them off the fiscal cliff?" Donnelly asked fellow lawmakers.
Perez said he took issue with colleagues who he said oppose health care for the poor.
"I assume most of the members here have taken advantage of their publicly funded health care," Perez said. "And yet, they don't think people surviving on $15,400 a year or less should enjoy some access to health care. This in my mind is truly a question of how we make just decisions about our resources and our commitment to the well-being of everyone in California."
Call Melody Gutierrez, Bee Capitol Bureau, (916) 326-5521. Follow her on Twitter @MelodyGutierrez. Torey Van Oot of The Bee Capitol Bureau contributed to this report.