Gavin Newsom took some bold first steps toward making health care more accessible and affordable in California when he was sworn in as the state’s 40th governor earlier this month. Newsom is a former mayor of San Francisco and Calif. Lt. Gov. who has spent at least a decade in the national spotlight becoming known as an evolving progressive. As he was sworn in he vowed to expand coverage for undocumented young adults, increasing financial assistance to individuals buying plans in Covered California, and increasing the state’s power to negotiate prescription drug prices. Gov. Newsom followed up his announcement by releasing a budget that calls for making investments in these areas, and more funding of expanded availability of certain mental health preventive services, and for increasing the reimbursement rate for certain Medi-Cal services.
The National Health Law Program welcomes Newsom’s proposals to move California toward increased coverage and access for California residents regardless of income or immigration status. Last year, we urged then governor-elect Newsom “to prioritize Medi-Cal coverage for all Californians regardless of immigration status.” Newsom has taken an important first step in this direction by committing to expanding Medi-Cal coverage for undocumented young adults up to 26.
Still, there is much more work to be done to ensure all Californians have access to affordable, high-quality and comprehensive health care. As we noted in our December 2018 letter, California faces a “crisis of maternal health and mortality” that disproportionately impacts Black and Indigenous mothers and requires innovative-statewide solutions. We also encouraged then-candidate Newsom to invest in solutions like covering doula-care in Medi-Cal to improve outcomes for low-income California mothers and their children, especially for Black and Indigenous families. (See our recent report on a proven way to combat this crisis).
Furthermore, no policy or financial investment can be assured success unless Gov. Newsom takes the lead on also ensuring that there is strong oversight in place to reach his bold goals. Oversight is crucial to ensuring that Medi-Cal beneficiaries are able to get covered health care services. This is especially important in the case of mental health services. Earlier this week, the National Health Law Program sent a letter to Newsom with seven partner organizations praising him for committing to establish the first ever “Mental Health Czar” for the state, and calling on his administration to provide leadership that ensures oversight over Medi-Cal covered mental health services. That oversight must result in well-coordinated mental health care, easy-to-understand information about that care, and a focus on community-based solutions for mental health.
Gov. Newsom has already taken some promising initial steps toward providing more oversight in California’s health care system. He appointed its first Surgeon General Nadine Burke Harris, a pediatrician, who is charged with encouraging policymakers at every level of government and leaders across the state to consider the social determinants of health, especially for children. Similarly, he has committed to naming a Mental Health Czar to provide leadership and accountability across California’s fragmented mental health system. We know that access to mental health services remains a major concern for many Californians. The National Health Law Program will work closely with Gov. Newsom, Surgeon General Burke Harris, and the Mental Health Czar to ensure that California is making the full range of necessary health services, including mental health services, accessible and affordable to all residents.