By Elizabeth Aguilera, CALmatters
With Congress ending the requirement that all Americans have health insurance, California leaders are preparing to counter that move by securing health care for as many residents as possible in a fortified state insurance exchange.
State lawmakers say they will present a package of health-related proposals in the coming weeks, before a Feb. 16 deadline for new bill introductions. Details are still developing, but officials and health care advocates say discussions focus on ways to maintain the exchange’s high enrollment and help still more Californians obtain insurance.
“Everything they are doing at the federal level, we are doing the opposite,” said state Sen. Ed Hernandez, an Azusa Democrat who chairs the Senate Committee on Health and plans to host a bill-pitching session next week.
The outcome may or may not include a state version of the mandate the federal government repealed, effective next year.
“What drives individuals to purchase on the exchange is the marketing, but also the subsidies and the health care,” Hernandez said. “We are looking at every option.”
The mission, Hernandez said, is to retain California’s successful implementation of the Affordable Care Act, further lower the number of uninsured people and control health care costs.
Across the country, states that created their own exchanges like California did are similarly engaged. Maryland lawmakers, for example, are trying to adopt a mandate that residents have health insurance or pay a penalty. Alternatively, the equivalent of the penalty could be used as a kind of downpayment on a health care plan.
The federal penalty for those without insurance goes away at the end of this year. It was imposed as part of the Affordable Care Act to ensure that most Americans signed up for health care, including the young and healthy who would give the exchanges a good balance of individuals and offset costs for those older and less healthy.