This week Gov. Schwarzenegger signed into law SB 1448 to expand health care coverage as part of the Medi-Cal hospital financing waiver renewal. The governor wrote in his signing message that the law "will enable California to test innovative strategies to provide health care coverage to low-income, uninsured residents" using up to $540 million in federal funds. Schwarzenegger wrote that funding will be directed to programs that have demonstrated their effectiveness in providing services for the uninsured and can provide patients with access to preventive health care and a primary source of care, among other criteria. Medi-Cal Director Stan Rosenstein said the funds could provide coverage for between 100,000 and 150,000 of the state's estimated seven million uninsured residents.
In addition to measures to expand health insurance coverage, the legislature also is considering legislation to control costs, including AB 774 by Assembly member Wilma Chan (D-Oakland). The bill would require hospitals to establish policies regarding discounted or no-cost care for state residents who meet certain income guidelines. According to an Assembly bill analysis, Chan said the bill is intended to prevent the uninsured or underinsured from facing bankruptcy because of medical bills. Schwarzenegger vetoed similar legislation during the 2003-2004 legislative session, according to the analysis.
Meanwhile, identical bills by Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez (D-Los Angeles) -- SB 1702 and AB 2911, respectively -- look to reduce health care costs by establishing prescription drug discount programs. The measures would require the Department of Health Services to negotiate discounts with drug manufacturers.