Review of Governor Newsom’s Healthcare Profits and Losses
Governor Gavin Newsoms 2018 Campaign for the office was full of strong and promising words about health care. Firmly behind a payer form of universal coverage, Newsom said there was “no need to wait… I’m tired of politicians saying they support the payer but that it’s too early, too expensive, or the problem of someone else. “
For more than two years, however, Newsom has been doing what most U.S. governors have been doing: navigating the COVID landscape and setting aside other health issues. Not only has the pandemic uncovered gaping gaps in California’s health care system, it has also infected and killed disproportionately large numbers of the same populations that have long suffered from inequality: blacks, Latinos, low-income and immigrant workers.
Much of the energy in the Newsom administration has gone into combating the spread of COVID. But as 2022 approaches and a November re-election campaign heats up, the governor will likely be asked about his progress – or lack of it – across a range of health categories.
Lowering drug prices
Newsom has long advocated plans to reduce drug costs for California patients. But until well into his first term in office, the governor made little progress. According to the California Department of Health Care Access and Information, the average wholesale cost of select drugs has increased nearly 21% over a three-year period. In the fall of 2020, Newsom signed a bill that could ultimately lead to the development of a government-administered generic drug system that could drastically lower the prices of certain products. It could take years to develop, however, and right now, Californians who buy drugs, especially prescription drugs, along with the rest of the country are still facing rising costs.
Under Newsom, the state health insurance program for low-income and disabled people was propelled in a new direction, with nearly $ 6 billion in state and federal funds directed to a specific group of Californians over the next five years. The idea is to reach people who are homeless or at risk of homelessness, as well as those who use emergency rooms frequently (perhaps as the only source of care), and people in expensive facilities: prisons, mental hospitals, nursing homes, etc. The program goes on in addition to regular Medicare services, funding activities such as buying healthy groceries, paying housing deposits, and paying certain bills. Newsom is promoting the program as one that will help get people off the streets, manage addictions, and treat mental health issues. But it will be managed care insurance companies, not Newsom administration, who will decide who actually gets help, and skeptics are already questioning that agreement.
California’s growing population over 65
In 2019, Newsom issued an executive order to create a “master plan for aging,” as its government put it. With a quarter of the state’s population expected to be over 65 by 2030, the plan has a number of attractive goals: housing “for all ages and ages”, closing the gender gap for older residents, and creating more healthcare jobs , among other things. Again, however, that idea won’t materialize for the next decade, and many of the toughest questions, including long-term funding, will likely not be answered until after Newsom leaves state government. The dollars currently allocated to the project include some ongoing funds and some one-time funding, which raises questions about the feasibility of the plan.
Universal Health Care / Individual Payers
Newsom bitterly disappointed some who were drawn to his candidacy for speaking of the sole payer, where a government-affiliated source would cover all health care costs in the state. Once in office, the governor quickly began to move away from this idea, using less specific terms like universal or umbrella care. Several organizations, including the California Nurses Association, are calling on him to look seriously at the idea, and in January a single payer bill will be tabled by Senator Ash Kalra (D-San Jose) forcing Newsom to present his Case 1 Way or so. Newsom pushed universal coverage this year, expanding Medi-Cal to all low-income residents over the age of 50, regardless of immigrant status. This reporting begins in March 2022.
Dealing with COVID
No matter what else happens, Newsom will continue to be judged by its administration’s response to the most significant national health crisis of its time. The governor’s track record with the virus is remarkably uneven, with sensible and aggressive health policies – early housing orders, strict policies on corporate and public spaces – that are often staggeringly reversed. Newsom also appears to bow to the will of high-profile financial backers, as evidenced by its refusal to join efforts to order the masking of workers in state prisons (their union is a big contributor to this) and its ill-fated tapping of health giant Blue Shield, a longtime sponsor to Newsom to direct the distribution of vaccine doses through the state. With COVID still an unwanted visitor and another tough winter ahead, the governor’s willingness to make tough decisions to get the virus under control in 2022 is being closely monitored.
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