Health Care Cuts in Schwarzenegger Budget Proposal Draw Criticism
Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's (R) budget proposal for fiscal year 2008-2009 is drawing criticism from Democratic lawmakers and interest groups, including stakeholders who maintain that billions of dollars in cuts to health care services are shortsighted, the Los Angeles Times reports (Rau/Halper, Los Angeles Times, 1/12).
According to the San Francisco Chronicle, addressing public health and welfare spending can be challenging for lawmakers because the cost of such programs is closely related to enrollment. Reining in costs often requires lawmakers to reduce benefits or services (Chorneau, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/13).
In the proposal, the governor advocates cutting about $1.1 billion in state funds from Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program, partly by cutting reimbursements to health care providers by 10%. The proposal also would eliminate Medi-Cal coverage of:
- Dental care for adults;
- Podiatry; and
- Vision and hearing services.
The governor's budget projects that ending dental benefits for adult Medi-Cal beneficiaries would save the state about $115 million.
However, Samuel Gruenbaum -- CEO of Western Dental Services, California's largest Denti-Cal provider -- said the cut would push many beneficiaries to seek dental care in hospital emergency departments.
Schwarzenegger's budget also seeks to cut about $11 million from programs for people with HIV/AIDS, eliminating coverage of some medications (Fernandez, San Francisco Chronicle, 1/12).
The Community Care Licensing Division, the state agency that inspects adult residential care facilities and child care facilities, would see a budget cut of about $4.7 million through mid-2009. The loss of funds would force the division to inspect facilities less often, aiming to visit facilities once every seven years instead of once every five years, the current standard.
Under the governor's budget proposal, programs aimed at monitoring communicable diseases and providing vaccinations would lose about $6.6 million.
Funding for efforts to diagnose and treat chronic diseases would be cut by $3.5 million.
In addition, Schwarzenegger proposed closing one hearing office of the Occupational Safety and Health Standards Board, the agency that enforces California laws on workplace health and safety.
The move would reduce the number of complaints the board processes by about 1,000. The board currently is experiencing a backlog of 3,000 cases (Los Angeles Times, 1/12).
Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill will release her review of the governor's budget proposal today, and the Senate and Assembly budget committees will hold hearings Thursday.
Assembly Budget Committee Chair John Laird (D-Santa Cruz) said he expects lawmakers to hold a series of meetings statewide to collect public input on the proposals (Lawrence, AP/San Francisco Chronicle, 1/13).
The budget is expected to dominate the legislative session this year, and Assembly Speaker Fabian Núñez (D-Los Angeles) said health care reform might be the only other major legislative effort undertaken this year.
Nonetheless, both Democrats and Republicans are intent on pursuing other legislation. Within the health care realm, Democrats want to increase state oversight of health insurers, while Republicans want to raise Medi-Cal payments for health care providers (Vogel/McGreevy, Los Angeles Times, 1/13).
On Friday, KPCC's "Air Talk" included a discussion of the governor's budget proposal. The segment includes comments from:
- Elizabeth Goldstein, president of the California State Parks Foundation;
- Jack O'Connell, state superintendent of Public Instruction for California;
- Kent Scheidegger of the Criminal Justice Foundation; and
- Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California (Mantle, "Air Talk," KPCC, 1/12).