UNINSURED: State Legislative Analyst Proposes Streamlined Package To Cover 1 Million
The state legislative analyst's office released a proposal yesterday that combines many "piecemeal" health bills into a package that would extend state-subsidized health insurance to all families with incomes up to 250% of the poverty level. By consolidating overlapping state programs and providing incentives for employers not to decrease coverage for their workers in the face of the state program, Legislative Analyst Elizabeth Hill said the program "would save the state so much money that the entire program could cost less than ... $200 million" (Pyle, Los Angeles Times, 6/3). The Sacramento Bee reports that the program, Family Coverage, would "provide subsidized coverage for up to 1.4 million low-income parents and children not now covered." Applicants could apply to the program by mail, and families would pay premiums of between $40 and $80 a month. And Hill said the Legislature could "choose to scale back the program" by lowering the income cutoff to 200% of the poverty level (Capps, 6/3).
Health policy experts were dubious of a plan they said attempts to be all things to all people. UCLA Center for Health Policy Director E. Richard Brown said, "What they've tried to do is put together a proposal that includes the main features of (pending legislation), but in a more moderate way that might be appealing to the governor. The intention was certainly good, but I think they're missing the boat." Brown noted that the 250% cutoff -- equal to about $41,000 for a family of four -- falls far short of the 300% level in Assembly Speaker Antonio Villaraigosa's (D-Los Angeles) AB 43, which would expand Healthy Families and combine it with Medi-Cal and other programs. Other advocates noted that premiums ranging up to $80 per month might be too steep for some families. And Children's Partnership's Dawn Horner raised a "red flag" at the provision that would allow the Legislature to cap the number of enrollees, calling it "an ill-advised attempt to draw moderate votes." Horner said, "It almost defeats the purpose of establishing a program ... to meet the needs of families who need health insurance." The cap may also mean trouble with the needed federal approval of the program -- Wisconsin's bid to place a cap on a similar Medicaid expansion was blocked by HCFA last year (6/3).
Bee columnist Dan Walters highlights the point of contention between liberal Democrats in the Legislature who want to spend the state's surplus on long-lasting health programs, and "New Democrat" Gov. Davis, who "would prefer to spend most of the budget windfall on one-time projects that involve no long-term commitments. ... He fears that an economic downturn in the next few years would create a crisis that could be solved only with new taxes or deep spending cuts." Walters argues that Hill's proposal "lends new weight to Democratic legislators' drive and sharpens their conflict with Davis as the deadline for fashioning a state budget draws near" (6/3).