HEALTHY FAMILIES: Wilson Wants To Revise Program
Saying the state's new Healthy Families plan was approved in error, the Wilson administration is now "attempting to scale back" the program, the Los Angeles Times reports (Ellis, 4/13). A spokesperson for Gov. Pete Wilson said yesterday that an "'auto-pen' had been used to affix the governor's signature on an erroneous plan submitted to federal officials" (Matthews, Scripps-McClatchy News Service/Contra Costa Times. According to the Wilson administration, the error is regarding eligibility levels for the program. The plan submitted to, and approved by the federal government, as well as "a five-member state board," would provide subsidized coverage to families between 100% and 200% of the federal poverty level "after deductions for child care, work expenses and other costs." However, Wilson wants to "end the deductions, contending that they would drive the qualifying income levels far beyond $32,900." Wilson Press Secretary Sean Walsh said that the governor "believes that the plan would allow too many families who have private insurance to qualify for lower cost government-subsidized insurance." According to Walsh, Wilson "decided to alter the plan after Republican legislators complained that the program should have been limited to only the poorest of children." State Assembly Minority Leader Bill Leonard (R) "said most Republicans would not have voted for the plan if they had known that the final version was going to include the deductions."
"The changes proposed by Wilson not only may delay the program but have also prompted angry protests from some Democrats and advocates for the poor," the Los Angeles Times reports. Lucy Quacinella, attorney for the Western Center on Law and Poverty, said, "It's very difficult for me to imagine that this was a mistake. The two agencies involved have easily had over 40 staff people working on this program. This particular issue has been very high profile. ... It's hard to imagine how the governor could have missed it." State Senate Insurance Committee Chair Herschel Rosenthal (D) said that "the change would eliminate thousands of poor children from the program and force hundreds of thousands of families to pay higher premiums for government-subsidized care." Rosenthal wrote in a letter to Wilson: "I am confused and alarmed as to why this last-minute change is necessary, since the use of such deductions was included in the Nov. 1997 plan ... which you signed." Any changes to the plan must be approved by the state Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, which meets on Thursday (4/13).
An editorial in yesterday's Los Angeles Times said the "state's Healthy Families board should reject the governor's proposal at its meeting Thursday." Calling the Wilson administration's claim that it was the governor's automatic pen, not the governor, who signed the program a "ridiculous distinction," the Times said the "change would needlessly confuse families and social workers by creating different eligibility systems for Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. More harmfully, many working-poor families would lose eligibility for the program. And because fees are on a sliding scale, others still eligible would have to pay more." The editorial concluded by saying "[w]hoever or whatever signed the original Healthy Families plan did the right thing, and the signature should be allowed to stand" (4/13).