Uninsured Residents Have ‘Ripple Effect’ on State
California taxpayers are beginning to feel the "ripple effect" of having seven million uninsured residents, as they pay billions of dollars to provide health care services, the AP/Ventura County Star reports. In the 2000-01 budget year, the state allocated $3.6 billion for health care programs that assist the uninsured, and Gov. Gray Davis (D) has proposed the same amount for next year. California hospitals lost $2.5 billion in uncompensated care in 1999, according to Jan Emerson, spokesperson for the California Healthcare Association. To address the situation, state officials, lawmakers and health advocates have offered a number of proposals to extend coverage to uninsured residents. The state has asked the federal government for permission to expand Healthy Families to cover parents of enrolled children. If approved, the expansion would extend coverage to 290,000 parents whose annual income is less than 200% of the federal poverty level. Richard Brown, director of UCLA's Center for Health Policy Research, also has proposed expanding Healthy Families to childless adults, "who would pay on a sliding scale," and Assembly member Dr. Keith Richman (R-Los Angeles) "has a $1.8 billion plan to expand access to health care by offering subsidies for low-income workers to buy insurance through private companies."
State Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Montebello), who has "long advocated" spending the state's portion of the national tobacco settlement on health care initiatives, said she would back "any solution, whether market-driven, private insurance or expanding Healthy Families, that will increase access to insurance for the uninsured." Despite the proposals, some health care advocates are worried that California's current energy crisis will "derail" efforts to use the state's "hefty surplus" to help the uninsured (Coleman, AP/Ventura County Star, 1/16).
Davis' proposal to expand Healthy Families to the parents of enrolled children is a "welcome shift," according to a Sacramento Bee editorial. The editorial also praises Davis for vowing to use state funds from the tobacco settlement to pay for the expansion. Under the Davis proposal, parents and children in a family of four with a combined annual income between $17,050 and $34,500 would be eligible for the program, as would children, but not parents, in families of four with annual incomes up to $42,625. Still, the editorial notes that 1.5 million currently uninsured California children are eligible for "government-subsidized health insurance" but are not enrolled. Given that Healthy Families has provided coverage to 361,000 previously uninsured children, the editorial concludes, "This is better than before, but California and the governor have a long way to go before more families who need doctors are truly healthy" (Sacramento Bee, 1/14).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.