Gavin Newsom, a progressive California Democrat, was sworn in on Monday to succeed Jerry Brown as governor of the state. Moments after being sworn into office, Newsom announced his intention to expand Medi-Cal, the state-run Medicaid program, to cover not just legal California residents but also all undocumented immigrants under the age of 26, giving them the same access to healthcare as their documented peers.
The Los Angeles Times reported that this change would cost the state a quarter of a billion dollars each year. Newsom emphasize that the upfront costs would result in savings overall, but more importantly, that his proposal pursues unity and welfare for all Californians. “It’s the moral thing to do,” he contended on social media. “When we talk about universal healthcare, it means everybody. When everybody pulls together, it means lower costs to each and every one of you.”
Newsom explained that the expansion would include an individual mandate that effectively replaces the federal mandate for the Affordable Care Act, which was no longer in place as of January 1st this year. Though the idea of an enforceable mandate is generally unpopular, individual mandates help to support affordable insurance premiums for everybody. According to an analysis by the non-partisan Kaiser Family Foundation, the expiration of the federal mandate is expected to contribute to a six percent hike in premium costs for Americans.
An expansion of Medi-Cal would also correspond with a proactive initiative to address disparities in healthcare; Newsom intends to create a new surgeon general position to helm this initiative. Though a recent report published by the California Health Care Foundation found that racial and ethnic disparities in coverage rates were reduced under the Affordable Care Act, the new surgeon general would work to forestall disparities in quality of care.
No Californian Left Behind in Newsom’s Progressive Mission
Newsom’s proposed expansion of Medi-Cal is only one element of his progressive vision for the state. In his inauguration speech, he described a “Marshall Plan” that would address the pressing economic and humanitarian issues in California. (His reference to a Marshall Plan hearkens back to a post-WWII aid program in which America helped to rebuild a Western Europe broken by the ravages of war — but also as a way to staunch the spread of Communism.)
California currently faces an affordable housing crisis, high levels of homelessness, and has one of the nation’s highest levels of income inequality. While acknowledging these existing inequalities and challenges in the state, Newsom’s inauguration speech reaffirmed California’s conspicuous role as a national and even global leader of progress. “The country is watching us. The world is waiting on us. The future depends on us. And we will seize this moment.”
Newsom served as mayor of San Francisco, a position he held for seven years, before working as Lieutenant Governor under former Gov. Jerry Brown.