Governor Overrules DHCS, Signs Law Creating Children’s Advisory Panel

On Wednesday, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) signed into law a measure to create the Medi-Cal Children’s Health Advisory Panel, over the objections of officials at the Department of Health Care Services, the agency for which the panel will provide advice.

AB 357 by Assembly member Richard Pan (D-Sacramento) will continue the 15-member Healthy Families Advisory Board, which is still meeting even though the Healthy Families program has been eliminated. The panel will help inform DHCS officials on issues for children in Medi-Cal.

DHCS officials said they don’t want it.

In an unusual step, an official at DHCS sent a letter on July 25 to legislators officially opposing formation of the advisory panel.    

“While DHCS welcomes advice and dialogue with stakeholders and experts such as the [Healthy Families Advisory Board] members,” wrote Carol Gallegos, the deputy director of legislative affairs at DHCS, “adding an independent advisory board specific to children’s health issues … is deemed unnecessary.”

The governor, however, sided with Pan — to a point.

The department is currently conducting a review of its stakeholder groups, the governor said in a signing message — a short accompanying note that is usually reserved for explaining the reasons for vetoes.

“I am signing … so that the current advisory panel can continue to focus on children’s issues in Medi-Cal, while the department conducts this review,” the governor wrote. “Once the department proposes revisions to its stakeholder groups and processes, advocates should be open to possible changes in how children’s issues are discussed.”

Pan, who has called for a culture shift at DHCS, said there are signs that things are changing there now.

“The governor sees what we’re trying to do and what DHCS is trying to do and he is acknowledging the importance of these advisory groups,” Pan said. “I’m very pleased by that.”

“I’m very appreciative of the direction director [Toby] Douglas has taken in several areas,” Pan said. “There are several things the department has done recently — the stakeholder [direction], autism coverage for Medi-Cal kids, they said they would do a [Medi-Cal managed care performance] dashboard and they did a dashboard. Those are all very positive signs.”

Pan said he’s looking forward to the outcome of the stakeholder discussions, and is cautiously hopeful about future dealings with DHCS.

“We may still have our pushes and shoves,” he said, “but there have been some very positive steps forward.”

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