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California Lawmakers Face Tight Deadline To Tackle Health Reform

The clock is ticking for California to get ready for the complete rollout of healthcare reform.

— California lawmakers are up against a tight deadline to get the state ready for the full rollout of healthcare reform. A variety of major decisions need to be made quickly.

States are required to launch their new online insurance marketplaces by January 2014. But California wants to open registration next October.

Anthony Wright, who directs the non-profit group Health Access California, said the state must get ready to add about 2 million people to the Medi-Cal program. Wright said lawmakers need to pass some rules to make the enrollment process as easy as possible. That's because there's a lot of money at stake.

"The federal government will pick up 100 percent of the newly eligible people in Medi-Cal for three years," Wright explained. "Then, in the fourth year, it goes down to 95 percent, and then onward at 90 percent, which is still a 9-to-1 match even in 2020 and beyond."

The state is in essence transforming its insurance market. Lawmakers will need to decide how much insurers can charge people based on age, and whether they'll be allowed to charge more based on where someone lives.

Wright said the pressure is on.

"The goal is to start signing Californians up in October 2013, which is less than 10 months away now. So there's a lot of work to do and a short amount of time to do it," he added.

Lawmakers have already approved a basic level of benefits that all health plans must include.

Governor Jerry Brown is expected to call a special legislative session in January to focus on healthcare reform.

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