One More Shot to Keep Healthy Families

Over the weekend, legislators came up with two new bills designed to keep the Healthy Families program intact. California’s version of the federal Children’s Health Insurance Program is slated for elimination. The 873,000 children in the program are scheduled to be shifted to Medi-Cal managed care plans. Almost half of them — about 415,000 children — are scheduled to begin the transition Jan. 1.

The transition timeline was too rapid for many legislators. The two new bills would halt the transition, for now.

This is the last week the Legislature can act this year. The 2012 session ends Friday.

The two bills, SB 301 by Senate member Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and AB 826  by Assembly member Sandré Swanson (D-Alameda), have miles to go. Each has to go through health committees, then possibly Appropriations, then a floor vote, and then the same process in the other house. That’s a big task in the remaining few days of the session, but it is possible.

Yesterday, the California Medical Association endorsed the proposal.

“Healthy Families has proven to be a successful program across the board,” said Molly Weedn, CMA’s director of media relations. “Democrats and Republicans have said this is a good program, there is no denying this is a solid program, so it doesn’t make sense to eliminate it.”

One of the points of contention has been what happens to the managed care organization (MCO) tax, which would be eliminated with the Healthy Families program. The governor has a plan to reinstate the MCO tax within AB 1469 (Budget Committee), but Republicans have said they would oppose that reinstatement unless Healthy Families remains intact. The two new bills also would reinstate the MCO tax, but tie it to Healthy Families’ continued operation.

If the governor succeeds in eliminating Healthy Families and manages to keep the MCO tax, state officials estimate California will save about $13 million in 2013.

That bothers Weedn. “The governor has to decide,” she said, “if $13 million is worth making sure nearly a million kids in California have health care. That’s the question. And I know where I fall on that.”

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