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Special Sessions Address Medi-Cal Funding, Transportation, and Tobacco

Special Sessions Address Medi-Cal Funding, Transportation, and Tobacco

The first week back after summer break has been a busy one in Sacramento, and today might’ve been the busiest day yet. Earlier this summer, Governor Jerry Brown signed a budget deal that stipulated two special legislative sessions, one on health care (particularly Medi-Cal) and developmental services, and the other focused on transportation funding. Today, we saw several hearings as part of both of these special sessions.

Senate Special Session on Transportation

This morning’s Senate special session on transportation focused on a number of strategies to raise revenues for transportation and infrastructure projects. The highlight of the hearing was Senator Jim Beall’s comprehensive transportation funding bill SBx1 1, which includes an increase in the state’s gas tax. Citing a lack of increase over the past two decades, Senator Beall noted that the increases included in his bill would adjust the tax to where it should be had it been increased as a result of inflation since the 1990s. There was testimony from a wide array of advocates in support of the proposal. However, some environmental and equitable transportation advocates expressed a desire for the bill to more explicitly gauge environmental impact and promote active transportation projects. The bill passed out of the committee on a partisan vote. Streetsblog California recently posted an excellent summary of the issues at stake with SBx1 1 and the special session on transportation.

Assembly Informational Hearing on Public Health and Developmental Services

In the afternoon, the Assembly held an informational hearing to discuss funding issues with the Medi-Cal program. The hearing featured a number of panels, including one of health providers and another of health advocates. There was a lot of discussion about raising revenues to improve the program, and in particular passing a restructured Managed Care Organization (MCO) tax, which is scheduled to expire. Without the MCO tax, Medi-Cal could be facing a $1 billion funding hole.

The first panel featured representatives from the California Medical Association, the California Dental Association, the California Hospital Association, and the California Primary Care Association. Each of these representatives discussed the importance of increasing revenues for the Medi-Cal program to increase the state’s provider rates, which are some of the lowest in the nation. They also noted that the MCO tax is only a start and expressed support for other revenue proposals, including an increased tobacco tax.

The second panel featured patient health advocates including Michelle Cabrera from SEIU, Anthony Wright from Health Access, and Linda Nguy from Western Center on Law and Poverty. Like the provider representatives before them, the patient advocates discussed the importance of increasing revenues to fully fund Medi-Cal. The common theme was that access to services goes only so far and that quality of services should also be paramount. Cabrera noted that we need to move away from the current status quo of using funds in economic surplus years to merely patch holes that resulted from cuts during lean years and instead focus on investing to improve the program. She also noted that the fact that Medi-Cal enrollment is so high – at 12 million, roughly 1 in 3 Californians are enrolled in the program – shows that more needs to be done to lift people out of poverty. As Medi-Cal struggles to keep up with rapidly increasing enrollment, Cabrera says that one of the best ways to improve the program would be developing wide-ranging poverty reduction strategies to help more low-income people find jobs and receive health benefits. Wright also noted that the Medi-Cal program is a vital part our health, bringing over $95 billion into the state’s public health care system.

Senate Special Session on Public Health and Developmental Services

At the same time as the Assembly’s informational hearing, the Senate was considering a number of legislative proposals dealing with the use of tobacco products. Leading up to this hearing, CPEHN developed a fact sheet, Health Disparities and Tobacco Use, that includes information on how tobacco use impacts California’s communities of color. The committee approved six bills aimed at reducing tobacco use.

One proposal considered during the hearing was Senator Mark Leno’s SBx2 5, which would prohibit the use of e-cigarettes, also known as “vaping,” in schools, restaurants, workplaces, and hospitals. A new product, e-cigarettes currently occupy a loophole in many tobacco laws. SBx2 5 would close this loophole and treat e-cigarettes like other tobacco products.

Another proposal offered by Senator Ed Hernandez would raise the smoking age from 18 to 21. Other bills required all schools to be considered smoke-free, closed some loopholes in smoke-free workplace laws, and allowed county voters to tax tobacco distributors.

Check back on our blog over the next several weeks for more updates on the special sessions.

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