Focus: Medi-Cal spending

February 16, 2010


Total spending on Medi-Cal services has doubled in 10 years, climbing from $19 billion to more than $37 billion. General fund spending on the program nearly doubled as well before declining as services were cut and federal stimulus funding replaced state taxpayer dollars.

Medi-Cal is one of the fastest growing programs in state government, with total spending on the program doubling in 10 years. General fund spending on health services in Medi-Cal has also nearly doubled during that period, compared to 57 percent growth for the general fund overall.

Last year, state taxpayers spent about $12 billion on Medi-Cal, compared to just $7 billion 10 years ago. This growth has come despite the fact that California pays less for medical services than most other large urbanized states.

The growth spurt began in the late 1990s when, flush with revenue from the dot-com bubble, the state expanded eligibility for the program, making it easier to qualify and stay on Medi-Cal. Now the recession is adding further to the rolls. A series of court cases and federal mandates make it difficult for the Legislature and the governor to slow the growth even if they had the political will to do so.

In a series of posts here in the days ahead, I’ll be taking a look at the elements of the spending growth and the attempts to slow it.

–Daniel Weintraub

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