SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) — More than 3 million uninsured residents will be able to buy affordable coverage starting in January, as the state moves aggressively to implement the federal health care law, the head of California's health insurance exchange said Wednesday.
Peter Lee, executive director of the California Health Benefit Exchange, sought to dispel what he said are myths about the health reform overhaul.
The exchange will help qualified people get a federal subsidy to pay for private health insurance, he said.
"The Affordable Health Act is so far from a government health system that it's mind-boggling," Lee told a meeting of the Sacramento Press Club. "The exchange is giving people financial support to choose, in a marketplace, the private plan they want to choose. That's as far from government as you get."
The vast majority of California's 7 million uninsured people do not have insurance because they cannot afford existing plans or have been refused coverage by insurance companies, not because there was no mandate to buy insurance, Lee said.
He also dismissed the argument that the new health insurance system will result in rationing of services.
"Today we have rationing because 7 million Californians don't have health care. Today we have rationing because we have private health plans that make all sorts of decisions about what's covered, what's not," he said.
Only a handful of the health care law's provisions have been enacted so far, as federal authorities and states work to establish regulations governing the insurance exchanges and coverage levels.
California was the first state in the nation to set up an exchange under a Republican governor — Arnold Schwarzenegger — and a Democratic-controlled Legislature.
Some states led by GOP governors are now refusing to implement the law, despite the U.S. Supreme Court ruling last month upholding the constitutionality of President Barack Obama's signature domestic initiative.
On Wednesday, congressional Republicans and a handful of Democrats voted again to repeal the two-year-old law, the 33rd time in 18 months the GOP majority has tried to eliminate, defund or otherwise scale back the program since Republicans took control of the House. The vote was largely a symbolic one, as the Democratic-controlled Senate will never agree.
House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, said the health reform law was supposed to reduce costs and create jobs.
"Instead, it is making our economy worse, driving up costs and making it harder for small businesses to hire," he said.
In California, the state has repeatedly scaled back access to health programs for its poorest residents as it has grappled with multibillion-dollar budget deficits, including last month's elimination of the Healthy Families insurance program that covered 880,000 children.
Lee said the federal health law is not a poverty program. Subsidies will be available for those who make up to $93,000 for a family of four with an average health insurance bill of $14,000 a year, he said.