By Victoria Colliver
California is beefing up Obamacare, restoring an individual mandate, expanding health insurance subsidies well into the middle class and covering some undocumented adults through Medicaid. It’s an incremental step toward universal coverage that can animate the Democrats’ party-defining debate over how best to cover everyone — through a mixed public-private system or through “Medicare for All."
The Democratic-controlled state legislature on Thursday approved a budget, clearing the path for a statewide penalty for failing to purchase health insurance, which will help subsidize coverage for middle-income people earning too much to receive federal financial help from Obamacare. California will also become the first state to extend Medicaid coverage to low-income undocumented adults up to age 26, defying the Trump administration’s efforts to shrink government benefits to immigrants.
The moves fall well short of a sweeping Medicare for All-style system vigorously supported by the party’s progressive wing here in California and across the country — and viewed much more cautiously by much of the Democratic establishment.
The idea of expanding Obamacare subsidies could gain traction among more moderate Democrats in Washington who would rather build on the Affordable Care Act than engage in another protracted health reform battle should the party take back control in Washington. And they can sell it as a practical move toward expanding coverage immediately while the party weighs more progressive health plans.