New Leaders in Legislature Plan To Include Health Care Issues on Agenda

Two new leaders of the Legislature discussing the direction of state programs and finances yesterday hit on health care topics a number of times. 

Assembly member Toni Atkins (D-San Diego) assumed the Assembly Speaker role in May, and Sen. Kevin de León (D-Los Angeles) is expected to be named Senate pro Tem later this month.

The two legislators covered a range of issues at yesterday’s Public Policy Institute of California event, moderated by PPIC president and CEO Mark Baldassare. Health care topics included Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates and extending health care coverage to the undocumented population.

“We need people to have access to health care, real access,” Atkins said. “We have to look at raising [Medi-Cal provider] reimbursement rates so providers can participate in Medi-Cal. We have to make sure we have enough to pay providers a decent rate.”

Atkins also pushed for an expansion of the Cal-Fresh food program.

De León said he agreed with Atkins, though he started to get a little more animated on the subject of insurance for the undocumented.

“The undocumented were left out of the exchange,” he said of federal regulations. “It was a policy that I felt was pernicious. To deny people health care, especially when they’re willing to buy into the exchange, that is just pernicious.”

De León cited this week’s release of a California Endowment-funded poll that showed a majority of Californians support that coverage.

“It’s a telling sign about attitudes among people in California,” de León said. “Attitudes have changed dramatically.”

Atkins said coverage is important, but it becomes less valuable if access to that coverage becomes difficult.

“I’m really proud of the way Californians embraced Covered California, and that’s a big step,” she said. “It is going to be a challenge to adequately reimburse providers, but if you don’t adequately reimburse them, then you won’t have real access for children, for adults.”

Atkins said she ran free clinics in San Diego and Los Angeles for seven years, so she knows the need for good care and the challenges to get that care. Atkins, whose academic training was in political science, was director of clinic services at Womancare Health Center in San Diego in the mid-1980s.

As with so many political issues, it will come down to money, de León said.

“All of these things have budget cost pressure,” he said. “We need to figure out, how do we fiscally put this together, so it’s not taxing to the general fund or taxing to people.”

But, he added, it’s up to states to work that out.

“Washington, D.C., is not going to do it,” de León said, “so we’re going to do it without them.”

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