- Felicia Matlosz
SACRAMENTO, CA – Assemblymember Dr. Joaquin Arambula (D-Fresno) last week introduced Assembly Bill 1900 to give seniors, disabled people, and low-income families covered by Medi-Cal a more equitable method to access care. This will relieve the hardship of forcing these people to choose either paying for health care costs or nonmedical expenses, such as food and rent.
Assemblymember Arambula and advocates believe the change is long-needed because the State’s program for these individuals has not updated the “share of cost” since 1989. Meanwhile, the cost of living has increased significantly, causing these people to pay a disproportionate amount to continue qualifying for Medi-Cal coverage.
Under the State’s “medically needy” program’s current structure, people 65 and older, people with disabilities, and low-income families who have incomes over Medi-Cal’s limits for free care can obtain coverage by paying “share of cost,” which is akin to a deductible. But the amount and percentage has not been adjusted for more than three decades, which means these people must pay over $800 per month for this coverage and are expected to survive on $600 a month.
AB 1900 would raise the required percentage from 55 percent of the federal poverty level to 138 percent. This would significantly reduce the share of cost and help allay economic anxieties for people on fixed incomes.
Assemblymember Jim Wood (D-Santa Rosa) is principal co-author of the bill. Advocacy organizations that are cosponsoring the bill are the Western Center on Law and Poverty, Disability Rights California, Justice in Aging, Senior and Disability Action SF, California Advocates for Nursing Home Reform, and Bet Tzedek.
Assemblymember Arambula said: “This is simply a matter of fairness for people who are struggling to make ends meet and need access to health care. By making this much-needed adjustment, we can help ease their financial burdens, so that they are not choosing between the need for medical attention and the need to pay rent and buy food.”
Assemblymember Wood said: “The maintenance need income level hasn’t been changed since the first George Bush was President and the minimum wage was $4.25 an hour. Changing this amount is long overdue.”
Linda Nguy, Senior Policy Advocate at Western Center on Law and Poverty, said: “Despite our high cost of living, California trails behind several states in how much people in certain Medi-Cal programs must pay for their own health care before Medi-Cal kicks in. It’s time to ditch the deductible and make California a leader in MediCal affordability for seniors and people with disabilities.”
Tiffany Huyenh-Cho, Senior Staff Attorney at Justice in Aging, said: “Justice in Aging is proud to co-sponsor this legislation to update the Medi-Cal share of cost program. Today, older adults and people with disabilities who are just $1 over the free Medi-Cal limit are forced to pay at minimum of 60 percent of their monthly income on health care and survive on just $600 to pay for rent, food, utilities, and all other expenses. The program hasn’t been updated since 1989 and older adults and people with disabilities are paying the price. No one should have to live in extreme poverty to access health care.”
Elizabeth Zirker, Managing Attorney at Disability Rights California, said: “Disability Rights California is excited to be part of this effort to increase access to Medi-Cal and to services which help keep people with disabilities in their homes and communities. Ending the decades old requirement that people impoverish themselves in order to get the care they need is critically important.”