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Repeal & Replace Watch

‘Not Turning Back’: California Governor Vows To Protect State’s Health Care

Gov. Jerry Brown (Neon Tommy via flickr)

In an unusually impassioned speech, Gov. Jerry Brown vowed Tuesday to protect California’s health care gains under Obamacare against Republican attempts in Washington, D.C., to roll them back.

“More than any other state, California has embraced the Affordable Care Act,” Brown told state legislators and appointees in his annual State of the State address at California’s Capitol. “I intend to join with other Governors and Senators, and with you, to do everything we can to protect the health care of our people.”

Brown said California would not “turn back” on advances it’s made in health coverage under pressure from the new Republican administration in Washington. Under the new federal leadership, he said, the “future is uncertain and dangers abound.”

Health coverage for Californians under the Affordable Care Act “has come with tens of billions of dollars from the federal government,” said Brown. “Were any of that were to be taken away, our state budget would be directly affected, possibly even devastated.”

Leveraging an estimated nearly $20 billion federal money, health coverage has been extended to five million Californians under Obamacare, which includes federally subsidized private health plans and an expansion of eligibility for Medicaid, the program for low-income people — known in this state as Medi-Cal.

Brown received cheers and several standing ovations from legislators during his speech, an address intended to set the state’s policy-making tone for the year. The 78-year old governor was visibly energized during his 16-minute speech, often speaking in an emphatic, defiant tone. While also emphasizing renewable energy initiatives and an inclusive immigration policy, Brown veered off script to voice support for women’s reproductive health care.

“We’re going to fight for Planned Parenthood, which has been unfairly attacked in too many places in this country,” he said.

Health care advocates quickly piped up on Twitter and in press releases to support the governor, saying he is rightly alarmed at the threat of losing billions of federal dollars not just from the repeal of the Affordable Care Act, but also under Congressional proposals to change Medicaid into a state block grant program.

“We look forward to working with [Governor Brown] to fight for our health in Congress,” Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said in a statement.

Kieryn Darkwater, a young transgender person of color, praised the speech on Twitter, saying it provided reassurance that California is a safe place for immigrants and others who are “marginalized.”

“I deeply appreciated that he spent so much time talking about the issues of health care and protections for our communities,” Darkwater, an Oakland-based activist, artist and programmer said via email to California Healthline.

Darkwater is enrolled in Medi-Cal, which covers much-needed mental health medications and gender transition hormone treatments.

“Medi-Cal is currently keeping me both alive and able to stay afloat financially,” Darkwater said.

Assemblymember Rob Bonta, D-Oakland, the former chairman of the Assembly Health Committee, tweeted that he was proud Brown “came out swinging in strong defense of health, immigrants, [and] science.”

Even some state Republicans responded favorably to Brown’s call for bipartisanship.

Senate Republican Leader Jean Fuller, R-Bakersfield, said reaching across party lines is especially important to build bridges with national policymakers.

“Working with Washington should emulate the bipartisan successes we have had in our state,” Fuller wrote in a statement.

Covered California, the state’s Obamacare insurance exchange, reported strong enrollment numbers today despite uncertainty surrounding a possible repeal of the health reform law. Officials said 320,000 Californians have signed up in the subsidized marketplace since November, roughly on par with last year’s enrollment over the same time period.

This story was produced by Kaiser Health News, which publishes California Healthline, an editorially independent service of the California Health Care Foundation.

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