California Healthline Rounds Up Recent Budget Coverage, Including Proposed Cuts to Health Care Programs
Health Access California, a coalition of social service organizations, on Thursday said that it would oppose Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) "plans to cut millions of dollars from health care programs that serve children and the elderly," the AP/Riverside Press-Enterprise reports (AP/Riverside Press-Enterprise, 3/4). Schwarzenegger's $99.1 billion proposal for fiscal year 2003-2004 midyear budget cuts would reduce state expenditures for health care programs by more than $900 million, with about $880 million in reductions for Medi-Cal (California Healthline, 2/27). Coalition leaders said they are prepared to bring "thousands" of people to Sacramento to rally in support of Medi-Cal, the AP/Press-Enterprise reports. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said that the March 2 statewide election in which voters approved Propositions 57 and 58 "was not a mandate for cuts," adding, "If anything, it was a mandate against the Armageddon cuts that the governor threatened if his bonds were not passed" (AP/Riverside Press-Enterprise, 3/4).
The Senate Budget Committee on Monday is scheduled to hold a hearing on a proposal by Schwarzenegger to cap enrollment in the state's AIDS Drug Assistance Program, which provides HIV treatment to low-income, uninsured and underinsured HIV-positive individuals, the San Francisco Chronicle reports (Russell, San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7). In his fiscal year 2004-2005 budget, Schwarzenegger has proposed to limit enrollment to the current level of 23,900, a move that would place an estimated 1,440 individuals per year on a waiting list for the program (California Healthline, 2/19). The cap is intended "to reduce the rate of growth of the program without reducing services to those already receiving them," Department of Finance spokesperson H.D. Palmer said. AIDS patient advocates, who plan to hold demonstrations in Sacramento on Monday, say that lawmakers need to add $25 million to the program's proposed $207 million budget to avoid waiting lists and maintain the current list of available drugs, adding that the proposed enrollment cap will be reached by January 2005 because net enrollment is increasing by an average of 112 patients per month. Drug price increases account for about one-third of the cost increase for ADAP, according to Office of AIDS Director Michael Montgomery (San Francisco Chronicle, 3/7).
The Los Angeles Times on Monday looked at Schwarzenegger's proposal to cap enrollment in Children's Services, a program that "assists youngsters with ailments that are not only severe but also can wipe out a family's savings." Medi-Cal or Healthy Families beneficiaries would be exempt from the cuts because most of the funding for those programs comes from the federal government, but a smaller group that includes children from higher-income families or undocumented immigrants would be affected. According to the Times, treatment would be withheld from a monthly average of 1,256 children who have "extraordinary medical conditions," including cystic fibrosis, congenital heart disease and hemophilia or who are in need of bone marrow or organ transplants. Alan Lewis, a pediatric cardiologist at Childrens Hospital of Los Angeles, said that program beneficiaries "may die while they are waiting for the care they need." However, Schwarzenegger said that the program's spending was "unsustainable and ordered the program to take its share of cuts," the Times reports (Ingram, Los Angeles Times, 3/8).
The San Jose Mercury News on Monday looked at the provisions of the new Medicare law and the governor's proposed cuts to Medi-Cal benefits, which "could add up to one of the biggest financial shocks to people with disabilities." Schwarzenegger's budget proposal would eliminate more than $454 million from a program that provides in-home caregivers to people with disabilities and cut $136 million in funding for regional centers that provide transportation and housing to people with disabilities. According to the Mercury News, advocates for people with disabilities are concerned about a "new receptivity on the part of legislative champions to ferret out 'waste and inefficiencies,'" which "signals a shift toward seeing some services for disabled people as fair game" (Portner, San Jose Mercury News, 3/8).
Democrats in the Legislature will "take a page out of Schwarzenegger's playbook" by "embracing a strategy that looks for waste first and relies heavily on economic arguments," rather than proposing new taxes, to avoid the governor's proposed budget cuts, the Los Angeles Times reports. Democrats plan to work with the governor over the coming months in a series of "efficiency" meetings to "aggressively and publicly go after waste themselves," the Times reports. They also plan to "put a human face on the cuts" by profiling families that would be affected by the governor's proposed cuts to human services and educational programs. On Friday, legislators revealed their new approach in a daylong hearing at the Los Angeles Valley College. During the hearing, a mother of a disabled child "praised a state program that pays family members to care for a chronically ill or disabled relative." In addition, Kristen Testa, an advocate for Children's Partnership, warned that the governor's proposed cap on Healthy Families would "lock out" 300,000 children, and Dr. Peter Gruen, president-elect of County-USC Medical Center, said that Schwarzenegger's proposal to cut Medi-Cal's doctor reimbursement rates by 10% would "deny poor Latinos and African Americans access to health care," the Times reports (Halper/Rabin, Los Angeles Times, 3/8).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.