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Saving $25 million… but losing $11.2 billion?

The California Medical Association is urging state lawmakers to roll back eligibility restrictions on Medi-Cal, the state’s health-care program for the poor, in order to take advantage of $11.2 billion in federal funding available from the economic stimulus act signed yesterday by President Barack Obama.

The legislation says a state’s eligibility and renewal procedures for the program can’t be more limiting than they were on July 1, 2008. But as part of the state budget deal enacted last September, California required that children report on their eligibility for Medi-Cal twice a year instead of once a year; it was a cost-cutting measure, expected to save the state $25 million this fiscal year. Critics said the added paperwork would lead to more than 58,000 California kids losing their Medi-Cal coverage this year – and more than 260,000 by the end of 2011 – while forcing counties to pick up more of their health-care costs.

This must be rolled back if California is to get the higher federal reimbursements for Medi-Cal – an increase in the Federal Medical Assistance Percentages from October 2008 through the end of 2010 – under the economic stimulus legislation.

“This is another great opportunity for state lawmakers to maximize federal assistance,” said CMA president Dr. Dev GnanaDev. “Restoring Medi-Cal’s eligibility rules makes smart fiscal sense and means more Californians will receive the health care they need.”

State Senate Health Committee chairwoman Elaine Alquist, D-Santa Clara, has been tied up all day today in the state budget fracas, but sent me this statement tonight:

“I absolutely support eliminating any hurdles to bringing money to California. In fact, I am introducing legislation to repeal the semi-annual eligibility reporting requirement for children so that we can bring in the approximately $11 billion that the federal stimulus bill holds for California’s Medi-Cal program.”

“This money is desperately needed to help California’s growing number of unemployed.”

“I will do whatever is necessary including introducing additional legislation to implement other provisions of the federal stimulus that could bring us up to $14 billion in much needed health care funding. Californians deserve to benefit from the President’s stimulus plan.”

Josh Richman

Josh Richman covers state and national politics for the Bay Area News Group. A New York City native, he earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Missouri and reported for the Express-Times of Easton, Pa. for five years before coming to the Oakland Tribune and ANG Newspapers in 1997. He is a frequent guest on KQED Channel 9’s “This Week in Northern California;” a proud father; an Eagle Scout; a somewhat skilled player of low-stakes poker; a rather good cook; a firm believer in the use of semicolons; and an unabashed political junkie who will never, EVER seek elected office.