Democrats Drop Healthy Families Expansion
Democratic lawmakers have agreed to remove from the proposed fiscal year 2006-2007 state budget a measure that would expand health insurance benefits to children, including undocumented immigrant children, the San Jose Mercury News reports (Harmon/Zapler, San Jose Mercury News, 6/20).
The measure would have provided $2 million in startup funds to expand eligibility for Healthy Families to children from households with incomes of up to 300% of the federal poverty level. The current threshold is 250%. The Department of Finance estimated that the expansion would cost the state $302 million annually by 2008, with care for undocumented immigrant children accounting for $286 million.
The Healthy Families expansion would have become inoperative if a proposed tobacco tax measure for the November ballot is approved (California Healthline, 6/16).
Senate President Pro Tempore Don Perata (D-Oakland) said Democrats "did not want the budget to get hung up" on a debate about benefits for undocumented immigrant children (San Francisco Chronicle, 6/20). Instead, Perata said he would introduce legislation to expand Healthy Families. The legislation would need only a simple majority to pass, rather than the two-thirds vote needed for the budget.
According to the San Diego Union-Tribune, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) likely would veto the measure.
Schwarzenegger said he supports enrolling more eligible children in programs, rather than expanding eligibility (Mendel, San Diego Union-Tribune, 6/20).
A budget measure proposed by Schwarzenegger would provide $23 million to 18 counties with Healthy Kids programs. The funds would be used to eliminate waiting lists for the programs (San Jose Mercury News, 6/20).
However, Republicans have said they will not vote in favor of the budget as long as that provision remains because it would allow undocumented immigrant children to receive health insurance (Benson, Sacramento Bee, 6/20).
Senate Minority Leader Dick Ackerman (R-Tustin) said the proposal would draw illegal immigrants to the state (San Jose Mercury News, 6/20). Ackerman added that there are four to six other budget issues Democrats and Republicans are debating (Joseph, Orange County Register, 6/19).
Schwarzenegger is "right in saying that California cannot now afford to make more children eligible for state health programs given the huge potential rise in costs," a San Francisco Examiner editorial states. However, the state "can well afford $22 million for much-needed county children's health services" without telling counties "which children they can and cannot help," according to the editorial. "Republicans need to back their governor on this issue," the editorial states (San Francisco Examiner, 6/20).
The debate over funding children's health insurance programs "is about rewarding lawbreaking and encouraging illegal immigration," Assembly member Chuck DeVore (R-Irvine) writes in a Los Angeles Daily News opinion piece. According to DeVore, "If the Healthy Families expansion is passed, in any form," it "would erect a figurative bright neon sign over California reading: 'Come here, we'll give you the best health care California taxpayers can provide'" (DeVore, Los Angeles Daily News, 6/20).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.