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Salud Carbajal: California Should Accept Federal Money to Expand Health Coverage

Under the new federal health-care law, 25,000 Californians who are uninsured in Santa Barbara County could get affordable health coverage starting next year. That’s because the law includes money to cover more people through Medicaid, known as Medi-Cal in California.

Salud Carbajal
Salud Carbajal

Right now, California and Gov. Jerry Brown have an important decision to make — accept federal dollars that have been allocated to cover uninsured individuals through Medicaid/Medi-Cal or turn down the money and leave them uninsured. If California accepts the federal funds to cover more people, it will improve families’ health and dramatically reduce the number of uninsured Santa Barbara County residents.

California should accept the federal funds and cover more families, because hardworking Californians need the security of quality health coverage to get the care they need, when they need it, without facing huge medical bills.

California and Santa Barbara County have successfully brought the uninsured rate for children down to record lows thanks to Medicaid/Medi-Cal and the Children’s Health Initiative of Santa Barbara County (CHISB) Healthy Kids insurance. Now it’s time to help their uninsured parents get health coverage, too, so that the whole family can get the care they need to stay healthy.

The health of parents has a dramatic effect on the health and well-being of children. In fact, research shows that providing coverage for low-income parents and family members is good for children, too, and increases the number of eligible children who have coverage.

By ensuring that more families in Santa Barbara County and across the state have health insurance, we will save health-care dollars that are currently used to treat uninsured people in the emergency room. Accepting the federal funds is a sensible approach to providing health coverage for the uninsured — a good deal for California, and a smarter use of health-care funds. Leaving millions of federal dollars on the table — and so many families in California without health coverage — would be foolish.

This opportunity to expand coverage to many more Californians and specifically Santa Barbara County residents is truly unprecedented — the federal money would cover 100 percent of the costs in the first few years and ultimately would pay for 90 percent of costs of this coverage. We need Gov. Brown to take action today, so that the necessary planning and preparation can be under way as soon as possible.

Once Gov. Brown moves to accept these funds, we will be able to cover more people in California and save taxpayer health-care dollars that are currently spent on treating uninsured people in emergency rooms. We know that care in the emergency room is expensive, and that treating people before they get sick — through care provided by their local doctor in their community — makes more sense. Right now, states pay hospitals for the care they provide to people who don’t have health insurance — and people with private insurance also pay as much as $1,100 more for family coverage to cover these costs.

By accepting the money, Gov. Brown will help cover more people and spend health-care dollars more wisely.

Salud Carbajal represents the First District on the Santa Barbara County Board of Supervisors.

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