Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is expected to sign the state budget on Friday, marking the first time in six years that California will adopt a spending plan before the new fiscal year begins. The Senate and Assembly on Tuesday approved the budget resolution, including $220 million for emergency preparedness efforts -- just over half of the $400 million Schwarzenegger requested. That funding will be used for emergency medical supplies, including mobile field hospitals, ventilators, protective equipment and other hospital supplies. Budget negotiations stalled on provisions that would have expanded children's health insurance programs to undocumented immigrant children after Republican lawmakers said they would not approve a budget that included such funding. As a result, proposals in the budget to expand eligibility for Healthy Families and provide funds for county Healthy Kids programs were dropped from the final agreement. Democratic legislators vowed that they would introduce legislation later this summer to expand the Healthy Families program and said that the governor committed himself to working with them to expand coverage for children.
Additional efforts to expand health insurance coverage in California also are underway. Lawmakers have introduced a number of measures to provide universal coverage, from creating a single-payer health system in the state (SB 840) to employer health plan contribution mandates (SB 1414). Local governments in San Francisco, Oakland and San Mateo County are looking for their own solutions. Official in those communities are determining whether a plan by San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom might alleviate the burden of caring for the uninsured by providing all residents with access to health care services. Individuals who enrolled in the plan would pay premiums based on a sliding scale. Officials are debating a measure by San Francisco Supervisor Tom Ammiano that would require employers to contribute to the plan, rather than offer voluntary support.
In other legislative action this week, Sen. Liz Figueroa amended two bills to create a measure that would reimburse pharmacies for the cost of Medicare prescription drug plan copayments for people who are dually eligible for Medi-Cal and Medicare. Meanwhile, pharmacists are asking federal lawmakers to approve federal legislation (S 2563/HR 5182) that would require Medicare prescription drug plans to offer electronic payments and make all payments promptly. Groups representing independent pharmacists allege that payments from pharmacy benefit managers -- which operate under CMS-approved contracts with pharmacies -- are too slow for community pharmacists to cover their expenses.
This week's Legislative Update also includes information on:
- A Medicaid demonstration project waiver that would fund five programs found to be effective at reaching the uninsured;
- Legislation to allow counties to expand local health insurance programs; and
- Hospital discount and charity care policies.