Health Advocates Criticize Proposed Cap on Healthy Families Enrollment
As many as 100,000 children who would otherwise qualify for the program would not have health insurance under a budget proposal by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) that would freeze enrollment in Healthy Families, health advocates said on Monday, the Ventura County Star reports (Herdt, Ventura County Star, 12/2). Schwarzenegger's proposal would limit enrollment in Healthy Families to its estimated January 2004 level of about 732,000 children. The approximately 300,000 children currently eligible for the program but not enrolled would be allowed to enroll only as others left the program (Rojas, Sacramento Bee, 12/2). New enrollment suspension would result in a $77 million reduction in state spending for fiscal years 2003-2004 and 2004-2005, according to Finance Director Donna Arduin (Coleman, AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/2). The enrollment cap would require the repeal of the Lanterman Act, which also would allow the state to limit caseloads for other health services (California Healthline, 11/26). Health advocates said that Schwarzenegger is "reneging on a campaign pledge" by proposing limitations on the program, according to the Bee. In his only debate appearance before the Oct. 7 gubernatorial recall election, Schwarzenegger said, "We have to make sure that every child in California is insured" (Sacramento Bee, 12/2). He also said, "If I become governor, I would immediately go out there ... so everyone knows about [Healthy Families] and everyone signs up because we must insure our families, the low-income families, especially the children" (AP/Contra Costa Times, 12/2). Deena Lahn of the Children's Defense Fund said, "We're very disappointed, because during the governor's campaign [Schwarzenegger] said he shared our goal of 100% coverage for children." Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said, "[Schwarzenegger] said he wanted to use his bully pulpit to enroll more kids. Now he's slamming the door shut." Finance Department spokesperson H.D. Palmer said that the governor supports Healthy Families and that the short-term reductions would "help assure its future in the long run," according to the Star (Ventura County Star, 12/2).
In other budget news, Schwarzenegger on Monday said that he is willing to compromise on details of the budget proposal "so long as the final version proves tough enough to end a worrisome string of budget deficits," the Los Angeles Times reports (Nicholas/Halper, Los Angeles Times, 12/2). The administration's budget plan proposes about $3.8 billion in spending cuts over the next 18 months, including proposed funding reductions of $440 million in fiscal year 2003-2004 for the Department of Health and Human Services. Over two years, the proposal would end state wage assistance for employees of long-term care facilities; reduce by 10% Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to physicians, in addition to the 5% reduction approved earlier this year; end nonmedical therapy for state residents with developmental disabilities; and eliminate in-home services intended to keep elderly residents and residents with disabilities living in their own homes. It also includes a cap on state spending and a $15 billion bond proposal to be put on the statewide March 2004 ballot (California Healthline, 11/26). Before beginning a statewide tour to promote his budget, Schwarzenegger said of the proposed cuts, "I hate making cuts. ... I didn't quite understand what that meant. Those are painful decisions, to take money away from people." According to the Times, some legislators and "powerful corners of state government" oppose Schwarzenegger's budget plan (Los Angeles Times, 12/2).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.