A sign advertising Covered California health care in San Ysidro on Oct. 26, 2017. Photo by Mike Blake, Reuters

By Ana B. Ibara | CALmatters

(CALMATTERS) – Health care advocates took to Thursday’s Covered California board meeting to express their discontent with Gov. Newsom’s veto of a bill aimed at expanding financial assistance for people who buy health insurance from the state’s marketplace. 

On Tuesday, Newsom rejected a bill by state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento that would have required the state to use about $304 million to reduce cost-sharing, such as deductibles and copays, for people enrolled in a Covered California plan. 

Some Californians who buy a standard plan could see their annual deductibles rise by $1,000 for a total of $4,750 in 2023. Pan’s bill would have helped reduce that cost, said Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, a sponsor of the bill. 

  • Wright: “That is an eye-popping number…What that means is someone who needs a hospital stay has to pay nearly $5,000 before their coverage kicks in.”

On Covered California plans, deductibles only apply to hospital and skilled nursing facilities admissions, and not to primary care or specialists visits, said James Scullary, a spokesperson for Covered California.

Pan’s bill would have directed the state to draw on the $304 million currently sitting in a reserve fund created in case that the federal government did not renew its enhanced premium subsidies. But with the passage of the Inflation Reduction Act, those federal subsidies were locked in for another three years. 

That also means that the state’s subsidy reserves will go unused. In his veto message, Newsom said the purpose was “laudatory,” but said this new use of funds would be unsustainable in the long-term. 

  • Newsom: “Rather, the funds should be reserved to ensure that state-only premium subsidies are available again when they are most needed.”

Still, advocates say that because California requires people to be insured — or face a tax penalty — the state should be taking all available opportunities to make coverage more affordable.