Since I was elected to the state Assembly in 2016, I’ve devoted much of my efforts and advocacy to improving health care for families and children in the Central Valley and California.
As an emergency room doctor, I saw the vital need for all families to have access to quality care. The 31st Assembly District, which covers much of Fresno County and which I represent in the Legislature, includes some of the state’s most disadvantaged and impoverished communities. I saw too many patients ailing from diabetes, obesity, asthma, heart disease, opioid addiction and other illnesses. I saw how these conditions burdened families emotionally and financially. Watching these families struggle to gain access to medical care and pay for it drove me from the ER to the Assembly.
We have a long way to go to ensure health care equity and access for all, but I believe the state has made progress these past two years to restore, expand and protect health care. While I strongly support programs that bridge gaps in these services, I also believe we need responsible decision-making in how these dollars are spent. I fought to lock in significant accountability and transparency measures to safeguard taxpayers’ money.
This includes authoring Assembly Bill 2499, which will mandate that California insurance companies spend at least 80 percent of their premium income on patient care and not administrative costs. The bill now is on the governor’s desk awaiting his signature.
But, while we’re making advances in how health care is administered, we still face a critical shortage of doctors and medical professionals in our rural communities.
One of my first acts as an assembly member was to author Assembly Bill 422 (now law) that made permanent Fresno State’s ability to award doctorate of nursing degrees, which will in turn help us train more nurses here at home. The nurses in the ER had my back, and I feel a strong sense of duty to help bring more nurses to our clinics and hospitals.
I also adamantly believe in establishing a medical school in the Valley. I have publicly spoken about this need because it is a long-term, institutional answer to our deficit of primary care doctors in the Central Valley. As we improve equity and access to health care, we must have more medical professionals to serve an increasing, and aging, number of patients.
In July, I was glad to hear the University of California San Francisco will establish a branch campus at UCSF Fresno to train medical students, with the goal that they stay here to serve their residencies. The UC’s Programs in Medical Education (PRIME) are crucial in our efforts to train medical students to be physicians serving vulnerable populations.
Meanwhile, I have championed other state actions that include these appropriations to bolster preventive services for underserved communities: restoring more than $100 million in full dental and optical coverage for Medi-Cal recipients; providing $20 million for a grant program for small and rural health clinics; and allocating $5 million to the Diabetes Prevention Program.
I also am co-chairman of the Assembly Select Committee on Health Care Delivery Systems and Universal Coverage, which is exploring ways to improve the health care system and attain universal health care in California.
Overall, I am heartened by what the state has achieved since 2016, including laws I authored that address the opioid crisis (AB 1048) and ensure that low-income children who have suffered trauma receive proper screening and treatment (AB 340). I am committed to introducing more legislation to protect and advance health care coverage.
When the Legislature begins its new two-year session in January, we will continue to make health care a priority to give all Californians a better, healthier future.
Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula represents the 31st District.