INSURING CHILDREN: A Good-News, Bad-News Answer
While the "gotcha" media often blames problems in the state on political bungling, Los Angeles Times columnist Shawn Hubler explains that this "is only half true," citing the "good-news- bad-news" situation surrounding California's health insurance programs for kids. First the good news: In the past several months, the evolution of Healthy Families, the state's federally matched program for insuring the children of working poor, has "gradually turned into one of the more reassuring success stories in the state," Hubler writes. She adds that, after the ascension of Gov. Gray Davis, the program's membership began climbing, due to small, but important, improvements. By May, the state had enrolled 45% of the 639,000 eligible children. New legislation will provide millions of dollars in funding for the program. Peter Anderson, deputy director of California's Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, expects that "almost every eligible kid in California [will be] enrolled in one program or the other by the end of next year." Now the bad news: The same legislation that improved the Healthy Families program has created another quagmire by easing the regulations on HMOs and allowing them to s olicit Medi-Cal and Healthy Families patients, Hubler notes. She criticizes the move, pointing to the vast fraud and abuse that ensued prior to the 1996 ban. She writes that prior to the ban, HMOs "hounded beneficiaries from clinics to check-cashing outlets to city buses, offering $20 bills and free fried chicken" as illegal signing bonuses. After enrolling, some beneficiaries were not allowed to see their regular doctor and did not have access to care near their homes or in their language. While Gov. Davis says that lifting the ban will boost enrollment, Hubler contends that doing so will have negative long-term consequences (6/12).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.