Despite optimism that lawmakers for the first time in 20 years would approve a budget by June 15, the Legislature did not reach an agreement by the constitutional deadline. Funding to expand children's health insurance programs was among the primary points of contention between Democratic and Republican lawmakers because language included in the budget would allow undocumented immigrant children to receive public benefits. One of the provisions would allocate $23 million to counties that provide insurance through Healthy Kids programs, while a separate measure would provide $2 million to increase the income thresholds for eligibility in Healthy Families. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) strongly opposes the Healthy Families expansion, saying that the state currently cannot afford it. Schwarzenegger said efforts should be made to enroll children who already qualify for programs, rather than increasing the number of children who would qualify.
Immigration-related issues also figured into Health and Human Services Agency Secretary Kim Belshé's week, as she wrote in a Los Angeles Times letter to the editor that California would wait for adequate federal guidance before the state enforces a federal law that requires Medi-Cal beneficiaries to provide proof of citizenship. CMS last week released guidelines, but no new information has been reported on when California would implement the law.
The Senate this week also acted on legislation to extract public health duties from the Department of Health Services and create a state Department of Public Health. The new department would oversee response to public health emergencies -- such as epidemics, natural disasters and bioterrorism -- leaving DHS to focus solely on Medi-Cal administration. Schwarzenegger has said he supports the measure.
This week's Legislative Update also includes news on:
- A bill that would create a pilot project to expand health coverage to workers in industries that have low insurance rates;
- Legislation that would require pharmaceutical companies to disclose all information about clinical trials; and
- A measure that would require all health insurers to sell a standard benefits plan.