California Continues to Prioritize Health Safety Net Programs, DHS Director Says
Although faced with a "health care crisis," an economic downturn and the threat of bioterrorism, California's "resolve to provide a safety net of services for those most in need" has not "lessened," Diana Bonta, director of the Department of Health Services, writes in a San Francisco Chronicle opinion piece. The state has "unique demands" placed on its health system, including a growing population of youth, adolescents and frail elderly; a growing shortage of health care workers; health facilities in need of seismic upgrading; and "overburdened" emergency rooms and trauma centers, Bonta says. She notes that California, which has the highest percentage of uninsured people of any state in the nation, will spend $28 billion this year on health care services for low-income people -- "more than the entire budgets of 41 states." Despite the aforementioned issues, California has taken various steps to improve the health of its residents, Bonta says, listing what the state recently has done to "eliminat[e] bureaucratic barriers" to expanding coverage:
Healthy Families: The state reduced the application from 28 pages to four pages and translated it into 11 languages, and increased the outreach budget for the program. Further, California is one of four states that applied to the federal government for a waiver that would allow the program to cover parents. Although the waiver is not yet approved and probably will be delayed because of budget cuts, Bonta says, "It's still a great idea. ... However, with shrinking state dollars available, we have no choice but to prioritize health care expansions."
- Medi-Cal: The state expanded coverage to include 50,000 low-income seniors and "previously uninsured" people with HIV/AIDS.
- Children's health: Gov. Gray Davis (D) in October signed into law an "aggressive" program that allows the state to enroll children in Medi-Cal or Healthy Families based on their eligibility for the free or reduced school lunch program and annual family income. The program is set to launch at the beginning of the 2002-2003 school year.
- Seniors: The state provided a discount on "all pharmacy costs" for Medicare-eligible people. Now 400,000 seniors pay on average 22% less for prescription medications.
"These efforts and others are paying off," Bonta says, citing a University of California Center for Health Policy Research report that said 2000 marked the "largest drop in the number of Californians without health insurance" (Bonta, San Francisco Chronicle, 11/29).
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