AB 23 Could Expand Health Care to More Unemployed in California

A whopping 37 percent of Californians, or 12.1 million people, were
uninsured for at least one month during 2007 and 2008, according to U.S. Census Data. Most were uninsured for at least six months,
and 80 percent were in working families. Scary? Yes, but if Assembly
Bill 23 passes, the numbers lacking the safety net they need will be
far less daunting.

Proposed by Republican Assemblyman Nathan Fletcher and sponsored by
state Insurance Commissioner Steve Poizner, the Bill would also allow
people laid off from small businesses–federally defined as those with
two to 19 employees–to qualify for the same subsidy available to those
at larger firms. Currently, the federal government generously pays up
to 65 percent of the health care premiums of workers who were employed
by firms of more than 20 people, left their jobs after September 1,
and retained health care benefits from their employers.

As an added bonus to broaden its reach, the bill would require health
plans to notify families about the program’s availability. Potential
participants would have to apply for the subsidy by December 31, and–if
deemed to qualify–would receive up to nine months of assistance.

There’s no logical reason why those axed from smaller firms should be
given unequal footing with those let go from places with more people.
Unemployment in California has spiked to 10.5 percent, encompassing
people from jobs of all nearly all sizes and fields, and there’s a very
good chance those numbers will grow even steeper. As most health care
in the U.S. is acquired through one’s place of work, there are
bound to be more hapless individuals lacking the treatment, medically
and politically, that they deserve.

But that’s exactly where AB 23, which could benefit 60,000 to 10,000
individuals and families in California, steps in. Ideally, it can help
alleviate stress to a system that “suffers from serious and pervasive
problems,” as President Obama aptly put the the state of U.S. health
care.

It’s by no means cheap. As the average monthly premium for an individual
is $400, and $1,000 for a family, according to the Assembly Appropriations
Committee, that’s up to $400 million in federal funds. But the temporary
price, which would likely come from the mostly yet-to-be-spent stimulus
funds, is little to pay in comparison to the already deep stress jobless
families face. Schwarzenegger is taking the right step by using $415 million from the stimulus package to aid the unemployed
in their job hunting. Still, before they acquire one, it’s vital that
they–and their families, including their growing children who often
require various routine vaccinations and check-ups–have the support
to remain healthy. The economy is hurting, but ideally people an individual’s
most fragile asset–their health–doesn’t have to be.

The U.S. as a whole is on the right path to rising from the health care
rut it’s been stuck in for many years. A new, formal Health Reform Office is going to attempt to “improve access
to health care,” and AB 23 appears a step closer–out of of many–to
doing so.