Subscribe Donate

Tag: health

Home | Newsroom |

Democratic lawmakers prepare to push Newsom on safety net spending

Democratic lawmakers will push Gov. Gavin Newsom to do more to help the poor as they enter budget negotiations based on plans the Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees passed in recent days.

Taking advantage of a rosy budget outlook and hefty reserves, Senate lawmakers have advanced budget proposals that include expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults and seniors and restoration of most Medi-Cal benefits that were cut during the recession, including audiology, speech therapy, podiatry and incontinent supplies.

Newsom is proposing to require Californians to have health coverage indefinitely, but has offered only three years of financial assistance to cover premium costs — and his subsidies mostly target middle-income people. That has drawn criticism from groups representing low-income residents.

“The penalty can be seen as reverse Robin Hood,” said Linda Nguy, a lobbyist with the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “It taxes lower-income people to subsidize people with higher incomes.”

Read more 

PRESS RELEASE: Western Center bill package could strengthen Medi-Cal for seniors

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

 

Assemblymembers Wood, Carrillo and advocates promote package of bills to strengthen Medi-Cal for seniors

 

AB 715, AB 1088, AB 1042 (Wood), and AB 683 (Carrillo) will work together to make Medi-Cal more equitable while creating greater stability for seniors and adults with disabilities

 

Sacramento, Calif., (April 2, 2019) – Today, Assemblymembers Wood and Carrillo joined advocates from Western Center on Law & Poverty, Justice in Aging, and Disability Rights California to highlight a package of new bills that, if passed, will work together to make Medi-Cal more equitable and accessible, while creating greater stability for seniors and adults with disabilities. The bill package is in committee this afternoon. Footage from the press conference is available here

 

“Seniors are California’s fastest-growing population,” said Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa). “Between now and 2026, the number of Californians 65 and older is expected to climb by 2.1 million, according to projections by the state Department of Finance — the only age bracket to grow in scale. Within this ever-growing population, we have some of our most vulnerable seniors who often have to make difficult choices – to pay for their rent and utilities, see a doctor, or purchase groceries or the medications they need. My goal this year, with three bills and two significant budget requests, is to make a positive difference in their lives.”

 

Currently, four separate Medi-Cal rules limit Medi-Cal’s effectiveness. The four new bills in the “Senior Package” would address those pitfalls, ensuring California seniors and adults with disabilities have access to the care they need.

 

“The Affordable Care Act made health care more accessible for a lot of people, but we left seniors out,” said Jen Flory, Policy Advocate at Western Center. “Seniors on Medi-Cal face stricter program rules and risk losing their health care at a time when senior poverty is on the rise. No one should lose their health care because they turn 65.”

 

The four bills in the package include:

 

AB 715 (Wood) – Eliminates the Senior Penalty

Raises the Medi-Cal income eligibility limit for seniors and adults with disabilities to 138% of the federal poverty level. Resolves unfair situations in which seniors and adults with disabilities are subject to a lower income eligibility limit than others in the Medi-Cal population. Will create parity between other Medi-Cal programs that serve adults and the Medi-Cal Aged & Disabled program. It will also reduce the number of low-income seniors who have a share-of-cost, which is typically an unaffordable monthly amount that seniors must pay before Medi-Cal will cover costs.

 

AB 1088 (Wood) – Improves Continuity of Medi-Cal Coverage

Stops seniors and adults with disabilities from flipping between free and share-of-cost Medi-Cal. Currently, this happens because the Medi-Cal income counting rules deduct an individual’s out-of-pocket payment of the Medicare Part B premium from their income, but stops deducting that payment when it comes from the state as a benefit of free Medi-Cal, creating a nonsensical loop—a senior can yo-yo on and off of the free Medi-Cal program simply because of the difference created by one income deduction, despite no change in their actual income. AB 1088 stops this yo-yoing by creating an income deduction when the state payment of the Part B premium would disqualify someone from free Medi-Cal, thus ensuring the individual’s stable enrollment in Medi-Cal.

 

AB 1042 (Wood) – Helps Seniors Keep their Home

Updates and expands the home upkeep allowance, which helps ensure seniors and adults with disabilities who have a short-term stay in a nursing facility do not lose their home or belongings. Currently, an individual who resides in a nursing home should have access to the home upkeep allowance, which allows an individual to keep money for up to 6 months to pay for rent or mortgage so they don’t lose their housing while in a nursing home. In practice, however, the allowance is rarely used, limited in scope, and is such a small amount—$209—that it is insufficient. AB 1042 corrects this by increasing the amount of the home upkeep allowance and allowing the individual to use it to preserve their home, or set up a home (e.g., pay a rental deposit or costs of a storage space).

 

AB 683 (Carrillo) – Increases Financial Stability for Low-Income Seniors

Increases and simplifies the asset eligibility limit for Medi-Cal and eliminates those limits for the Medicare Savings Programs, which makes Medicare more affordable. This bill is needed because the current asset rules are so low that they affect seniors’ financial stability and perpetuate racial inequity within the Medi-Cal program. Currently, the asset limit is $2,000 for an individual and $3,000 for a couple. That limit has remained unchanged since 1989. Although asset exclusions exist, including property used as a primary residence, people of color are much less likely to own real property. This means that a senior with $4,000 in the bank is ineligible for Medi-Cal, but a senior who owns a home worth hundreds of thousands of dollars is eligible. AB 683 helps address this disparity by allowing individuals to have up to $10,000 of assets and a couple to have $15,000; ensures more people qualify for the Medicare Savings Program; and simplifies asset rules so low-income seniors and adults with disabilities have an easier time understanding and complying with the rules.

 

 

For more information, contact:

Jen Flory, Western Center on Law & Poverty, [email protected]

Claire M. Ramsey, Justice in Aging, [email protected]

Valley residents make their voices heard in Sacramento

 

The weather didn’t stop thousands of Valley residents – from Bakersfield to Stockton – from traveling to Sacramento on March 6 to raise their voices at the State Capitol demanding change for a healthier San Joaquin Valley and all its residents.

Approximately 2,000 Valley residents, advocates, and local elected leaders gathered at the Capitol Mall for this year’s ‘Equity on the Mall’ to rally for a ‘Golden State for All.’

The annual event is conducted by the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, a funding collaborative of 18 funders and 90 community organizations established by The Center at Sierra Health Foundation.

Residents represented nine counties in the San Joaquin Valley with the commun goal to bring much-needed attention to the health inequities faced by children and families living in the region.

…“A child can’t put their childhood on hold until an affordable housing unit is built or the market adjusts, and solutions that allow low‐income families to access existing housing are a critical component of ensuring children succeed,” said Alexander Harnden, Housing Policy Advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.

Read more

We Stand United Against Trump’s Divisive Public Charge Rule

Western Center’s Mona Tawatao shared her wisdom on the Trump Administration’s proposed Public Charge rules in the California Health Report. An excerpt is below, the full piece is available here.

In this country, we believe that our value and ability to contribute to society should not be based on how we look or how much money in our wallets. These principles of fairness and equal opportunity are what unite us as a nation.

The Trump administration’s proposed public charge rule flouts these core values. It is yet another one of the President Trump’s schemes to divide us. This is the president who has also torn apart families seeking asylum protection at our southern border and declared a “national emergency,” bypassing Congress and our Constitution, in an attempt to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.   

Medical credit cards purport to ease medical cost burdens, but end up creating stress. A new Western Center-sponsored bill could change that

By Jen Flory, Western Center Health Policy Advocate

For many medical consumers, medical credit cards are offered as a way to pay for unexpected medical costs not covered by insurance. Those costs can include trips to the dentist, chiropractors, and veterinarians. Most people know how quickly medical bills can upend a person’s finances, so medical credit cards can seem like a good deal – especially when they are presented with a zero percent introductory rate.

The tricky part about medical credit cards, and what many consumers of the cards misunderstand, is that while they enjoy that zero percent rate for a period of time, when the introductory period is up, they will not only pay a higher rate (which is to be expected), but they will also face deferred interest. Deferred interest provisions allow card issuers to charge interest on the entire original balance, regardless of how much is paid off during the introductory period. That extra interest adds an unexpected burden for the medical consumer who thought they were doing something to help with their medical bills.

For example, if a consumer puts $1,000 on their card and pays off $900 by the end of the introductory period, the new 26.99% interest rate will be charged not on the remaining $100 balance, but on the original $1,000. The consumer will end up paying $269.90 in interest on a $100 balance.

To add insult to injury, many people are encouraged to sign up for medical credit cards while they are awaiting services in treatment rooms. Without the time and means to research alternatives, and in such stressful circumstances, consumers don’t have the opportunity to fully understand what they are signing up for.

Consumers have also reported being signed up for credit cards while sitting in a dental chair about to get treatment, or for dental services that could have been covered by Medi-Cal. Many Medi-Cal recipients are still being charged for dental services in spite of the restoration of dental services for adults with Medi-Cal. In some cases, the needed services are not covered by Medi-Cal; in other cases, Medi-Cal services are available to treat the condition, but patients are upsold more expensive services, which often end up on medical credit cards.

In 2009, AB 171 (Jones) was passed to require dentists to give notices prior to signing a patient up for a credit card to pay for services. In 2014, SB 1256 (Mitchell) expanded those rules to any licensed health care provider. While the law does provide for basic patient notification, few consumers understand how deferred interest provisions work, so they are shocked by high interest charges later added to their account.

To protect medical consumers, Senator Holly Mitchell has introduced SB 639, which would prohibit medical providers from offering products with deferred interest provisions, and would prohibit them from signing patients up for medical credit cards in treatment areas. The bill would also require providers that accept Medi-Cal to explain to patients what Medi-Cal does and does not cover, and it would require language in the notices about medical credit cards to be written at a 6th grade reading level.

Third-party financing may have a place when patients need services they cannot immediately pay for, but more must be done to protect consumers. Products with ‘gotcha’ clauses like deferred interest have no place in a medical practice. Consumers should never feel pressured into applying for medical credit cards, and they should always understand what they are signing up for — especially since their health and wellbeing is on the line.

Nonprofit Dental Insurer Under Scrutiny For ‘Flagrant’ Spending

Dental insurance giant Delta Dental of California is facing mounting criticism for paying its CEO exorbitantly, flying board members and their companions to Barbados for a meeting, and spending a small fraction of its revenue on charitable work — all while receiving significant state and federal tax breaks because of its nonprofit status.

Now, the company — which has 36.5 million enrollees in 15 states and the District of Columbia — is hoping to pay $155 million to acquire a 49.5 percent stake in for-profit medical and dental insurer Moda Health

…In December, Consumer Reports, California Pan-Ethnic Health Network, Health Access and the Western Center on Law & Poverty penned a letter to California regulators asking them to assess whether it’s appropriate for Delta Dental to be investing in a for-profit insurer.

Read more here

Coverage denied: Patients suffer as layers of companies profit

Marcela Villa isn’t a big name in healthcare, but she played a crucial role in the lives of thousands of Medicaid patients in California. Her official title: denial nurse.

Each week, dozens of requests for treatment landed on her desk after preliminary rejections. Her job, with the assistance of a part-time medical director, was to conclusively determine whether the care—from doctor visits to cancer treatment—should be covered under the nation’s health insurance program for low-income Americans.

…“These private entities get very little oversight,” said Linda Nguy, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty in Sacramento, “and there’s real harm being done to patients.”

Read more here

Gavin Newsom’s first hires suggest the next California governor has big health care plans

 

Gavin Newsom might not be able to accomplish his ambitious campaign goal of bringing government-funded universal health care to California, but his first hires suggest he’s planning something big.

Incoming chief of staff Ann O’Leary helped develop the Children’s Health Insurance Program when she worked in the Bill Clinton White House.

…Matosantos, who once worked for the Senate Health Committee, will serve as liaison between Newsom and the state agencies and departments he oversees.

Her background at the Department of Finance during the recession might make her more hesitant to increase state spending, said Jen Flory, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law and Poverty.

“She was in charge of Finance during some really challenging times,” Flory said. “I don’t think that anyone has any blinders that she’s just going to throw money around.”

Read more here

Western Center Submits Comments Opposing Public Charge Rule Change

Western Center has submitted comments to the Department of Homeland Security in opposition to the Trump administration’s proposed Public Charge rule changes, joining over 150,000 others. An excerpt from Western Center’s comments are below, and the full comments are available here.

As California’s oldest and largest legal services support center, we have over
50 years’ experience fighting to reduce poverty in our state through the courts, the
legislature, and by working with state and local agencies to ensure our laws are fair and
justly implemented. We can speak directly to which federal and state policies serve to
reduce poverty in our communities thus benefitting our state and country as a whole
and which policies worsen poverty, penalize families struggling to make ends meet, and
hurt us all.

The recent notice of rulemaking proposes sweeping and very harmful changes to the
current public charge test – the test used to determine which immigrants are
inadmissible when they seek to enter the country or adjust their status to that of
permanent residents. The proposed regulations would punish immigrants, mostly those
who are people of color, for any use of a broad swath of public benefits, including
health, nutrition, and housing assistance, and further punish low-to-moderate income
families solely for their lack of wealth. This would be a radical departure from current
agency guidance that limits public charge determinations to those who are primarily
dependent on cash benefits and long term care medical services, and even then, only
after examining the totality of the circumstances.

Simply stated, laws and regulations that increase barriers to safe and affordable
housing, food, and health care are not only harmful in the short run, they have been
proven to have lasting detrimental effects throughout the lifetime of an individual and
even on the next generation. In other words, harsh and punitive short term spending
cuts generally backfire by decreasing the ability for individuals to support themselves
and their families. People cannot go to or do their best at work or school when they are
hungry or sick.