HEALTH CARE BUDGET: Democrats Decry Davis’ Slim Allocation
Democratic lawmakers, "stunned by Gov. Gray Davis' failure to spend more of the state's $4.3 billion surplus on health care for the needy," plan next week to unveil their own proposal to channel all of the state's tobacco settlement funds to health care, the San Diego Union-Tribune reports. The criticism comes even though Davis last week revised his budget to include an additional $110 million for four health programs. Some warn that "modest increases in just two of those programs" could gobble up nearly the entire amount, as the Department of Finance estimates that hiking Medi-Cal reimbursement rates by 5% would cost $55 million, and giving 5% raises to home care providers for the disabled would cost $50 million. That would leave little left for the other two programs -- Davis' provision to cover any expansions in Healthy Families and increasing the rates the state pays to nursing homes that take Medi-Cal patients. Health care advocates are particularly concerned about the future of Healthy Families, noting that while Davis' January budget provided coverage for 47,000 children, some warn that it won't be enough. The state could lose up to $1.6 billion in federal funds within the next three years by not covering more children, according to an estimate by Richard Brown, director of the University of California-Los Angeles Center for Health Policy Research. In his January budget, Davis allocated the tobacco funds into a "reserve for fiscal emergencies," even as lawmakers said the strong "economy is giving the remarkably cautious Davis enough money for a reserve of up to $1.6 billion." In response, lawmakers have crafted a proposal endorsed by Senate President John Burton (D-San Francisco) that would pump up to $500 million a year -- the state's tobacco settlement windfall -- into health care. State Sen. Steve Peace (D-El Cajon), chair of the Senate Budget Committee, said he believed that Davis and Democratic legislators could hammer out an "agreement that includes more money for health care." He said, "We're talking about a difference of about $200 million in an $80 billion budget" (Ainsworth, 5/21).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.