Gov. Newsom requests federal waiver to cover Medi-Cal patients, expand telehealth as part of state’s COVID-19 response

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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Tuesday that California has requested a federal waiver to cover Medi-Cal recipients and expand telehealth options in response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Speaking at a news conference Tuesday, the governor also addressed school closures, the state’s recent initiatives on emergency state funding, healthcare, housing and the status of coronavirus testing kits.

Newsom announced that the state asked federal officials to make it easier to quickly provide care to 13 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries.

“To get Californians the care they need during this crisis, we need to change how that care is delivered and communicated,” the governor said. “By expanding our telehealth options we’re minimizing disruption to our health care system to prioritize care for those who need it most, while providing easier, more accessible options for other Californians seeking care.”

The request aims to ease federal rules that govern how doctors and other health care providers treat people covered through Medi-Cal., according to the governor’s office.

It would also loosen rules on telehealth and where care can be provided, making it simpler to protect people who are at high risk if exposed to the coronavirus.

Newsom also said Tuesday that parents and students should not expect schools in the state — over 98% of which have closed — to reopen before summer break.

The state, however, plans to keep day care centers open, he said.

Educational resources have been made available for public distribution and will be updated every Friday, Newsom said.

“Even though a school may be physically closed, educating and feeding our kids shouldn’t stop,” the governor said. “Our low-income students also continue to need access to free or reduced price, healthy meals.”

The state has applied for a federal waiver to ensure that students will not have to face academic testing when they eventually return to school.

The governor signed emergency legislation earlier Tuesday, after the California Legislature approved $1.1 billion in new spending Monday to combat the coronavirus pandemic.

“The California Legislature did the right thing in record time,” Newsom said.

The emergency action unlocked funding to increase hospital capacity, clean schools and protect vulnerable communities from the virus, according to a press release from Newsom’s office.

The emergency legislative package will provide $500 million to help the state’s fight against COVID-19 and will authorize increases of up to $1.1 billion.

The governor said he met with health officials in the state earlier Tuesday to discuss assets and contingency plans for the state’s 416 hospitals, should the virus spread further.

Newsom said he had a sobering conversation about “where we may be and where we may need to go together.”

He said the state was in possession of many coronavirus tests but could not use them because not all of the necessary components were available. He compared the situation to having a printer with no ink.

Newsom assured Californians that he was confident that in the next week or two, testing capacity would increase exponentially.

The National Guard was directed to be prepared to help with “humanitarian missions” across the state, including food distribution, ensuring resilience of supply lines and supporting public safety, the governor said at the news conference.

“As Californians make sacrifices over the coming weeks and stay home, we are immensely grateful for medical providers, first-responders and National Guard personnel who are assisting those who are most vulnerable to COVID-19,” Newsom said.

Newsom issued an executive order late Monday to protect homeowners and renters impacted by the pandemic, allowing local governments to temporarily halt foreclosures and evictions.

The order also protects Californians from having their utilities shut off, according to a statement from the governor’s office.

There were 472 confirmed cases of coronavirus in California as of 6 p.m. Monday, according to the California Department of Public Health.

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