Future Looks Grim for Santa Cruz County’s Healthy Kids Program
Santa Cruz County's Healthy Kids insurance program is starting to buckle under the strain of the ongoing recession, state budget cuts and waning donor support, the Santa Cruz Sentinel reports.
Healthy Kids and similar programs in other California counties provide health care coverage to children who are not eligible for Healthy Families, California's Children's Health Insurance Program or Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. Healthy Kids offers coverage regardless of immigration status.
During the past decade, these programs have provided coverage for nearly 150,000 Californians, a majority of whom have been undocumented children.
The recent economic downturn likely has driven more and more California families to enroll their children in Healthy Kids.
Meanwhile, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) has proposed deep cuts to Healthy Families as part of his plan to close a $19.9 billion state deficit. The move could drop more than 200,000 children from Healthy Families, thus further increasing demand for Healthy Kids and other county services.
At the same time, many foundations and other groups are starting to withdraw their support from Healthy Kids and other county programs.
Many of these supporters initially envisioned Healthy Kids as a demonstration project that officials eventually could adopt statewide.
However, California's current fiscal woes make it unlikely that the state will expand the Healthy Kids effort in the near future.
Cuts Already in Action
Many California counties already have started cutting back on their Healthy Kids programs or eliminating benefits entirely.
In Santa Cruz County, Healthy Kids is slated to raise premiums this month for families with incomes higher than 150% of the federal poverty level.
The program currently has a wait list of more than 159 children since administrators froze enrollment for children older than age five in June 2009.
Officials say Healthy Kids eventually might begin disenrolling older children in order to continue providing services for as long as possible (Wiener, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/22).
"A toxic political climate has combined with historic budget shortfalls to leave a majority of Santa Cruz County kids at risk of losing health insurance -- at a time when families are unable to pick up the cost themselves," a Sentinel editorial states.
It continues, "What's particularly egregious is that Healthy Kids has been an enormously successful program." The editorial concludes, "With the prospects of help from state and federal sources faltering, the people of Santa Cruz County will have to step up, again, to renew their support for keeping kids healthy" (Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/24).
Sentinel Series on Children's Health Care
In conjunction with the California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting, the Sentinel produced a series of articles about the future of children's health insurance in California. CHCF publishes California Healthline.
Headlines and links for the series appear below.
- "State Budget Cuts Threaten Healthy Kids Effort" (Alexander, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/24).
- "Father Looks Ahead and Hopes for Best" (Bookwalter, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/23).
- "Medical Foundation Chief Sees Rocky Road for Kids Health Care" (Kipling, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/24).
- "$4 Stands Between Mom and Health Care for Children" (Satyanarayana, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/23).
- "Listening With Her Heart, Watsonville Doctor Sees More Uninsured Kids, Worries About Their Health" (Wiener, Santa Cruz Sentinel, 1/23).