Peter Manzo

Viewpoints: Expanding Medi-Cal: An opportunity not to be wasted

Published: Friday, May. 10, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 15A
Last Modified: Sunday, May. 12, 2013 - 2:34 pm

Under the new federal health care law, California has an unprecedented opportunity to use enhanced federal funding to provide Medi-Cal coverage to 1.4 million uninsured eligible Californians, drastically reducing the number of uninsured.

Beginning in 2014, low-wage working adults, including parents, throughout California could benefit from this opportunity, but only if Gov. Jerry Brown makes the decision to move the Medi-Cal expansion forward very soon.

Our state legislators, knowing the urgency, have been working hard to expand Medi-Cal quickly and as efficiently as possible, but ultimately it falls to Brown to decide whether to accept federal dollars that have been set aside to cover these uninsured people in Medi-Cal, or turn down the money and not cover them at all.

The decision should be easy. The federal money will cover 100 percent of the costs in the first few years and never less than 90 percent of the costs thereafter. Making sure more Californians have health insurance and get the care they need from their doctors before they get sick will save taxpayer dollars that are currently spent to treat uninsured people in emergency rooms.

If California accepts the money to expand coverage, not only will we dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Californians, it also will ensure a smarter use of the state's health care dollars. This is a great bargain for California – the federal government will pay virtually all the costs, returning more of our tax dollars to California, our taxpayers get the savings, and we all benefit from healthier employees, co-workers and their children.

Expanding Medi-Cal is critical to California achieving the full gains offered by the Affordable Care Act, gains that will make California's economy more competitive and our state a better place to live. United Way knows that education, health and financial stability go hand in hand, working to help children and families thrive. This investment in health coverage supports education and financial achievement.

It is not possible for children or young adults to attend school or college and get a quality education if they have medical, dental or vision problems that force them to miss school or prevent them from paying attention in class.

Good health is a critical building block to education and a strong workforce – bolstering our health coverage and access to health providers will allow Californians to thrive in all parts of their lives.

In addition to expanding Medi-Cal and effectively implementing the Affordable Care Act, however, we also need to remember there will be approximately 3 million Californians who remain uninsured – including nearly half a million children. Therefore, while we expand coverage to many, it also is essential to preserve a strong health care safety net at the county level that can provide care for the remaining uninsured. California must make sure not to leave this population behind as the state implements the Affordable Care Act.

Accepting the federal funds to cover more people is a sensible approach to providing health coverage for the uninsured, a good deal for California and a smarter use of health care funds. Californians are right to expect our elected leaders to be responsible stewards of public funds. Taking a hard-line approach to financial realities is one thing, but leaving millions of federal dollars on the table – when we have many Californians without health coverage – would be not only fiscally irresponsible but heartless. Expanding Medi-Cal, now, is the right thing for all Californians and we urge Governor Brown not to hesitate further.

Peter Manzo is president and CEO of United Ways of California.

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