Committees Talk Health, Move Budget

In passing the May revision out of the Assembly and Senate budget committees, a raft of legislators raised questions about the funding of health care programs, both present and future.

“This has been an arduous process, I must say,” Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) said. “We have had to make some tough decisions — with almost half of the March actions, half of those March cuts coming out of health and human services. These are services that Californians rely on.”

The current budget revision includes more cuts to health-related programs, including the shift of 870,000 children from the Healthy Families program to Medi-Cal managed care.

That was a piece that riled Assembly member Brian Nestande (R-Palm Desert). “I don’t get it,” he said. “Again, why are we moving these people off of Healthy Families?”

Michael Cohen of the Finance Department said the move is tied to national health care reform. “We think we can do better by combining the two programs,” Cohen said. “Basically, with health care reform, it made the most sense to combine them. At the end of the day, we think it’s a cost-saving measure.”

But Healthy Families has a lower cost, Nestande said. “The cost of eligibility is much higher in Medi-Cal managed care,” he said.

Committee chair Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) said it’s too early in the conversion process to say that definitively. “We adopted it in concept in subcommittee, but it’s still not explicitly spelled out,” Blumenfield said. “The plan is there, but it will take some time to implement and work out. That process is going to take some time.”

That was a note that has been sounded on a number of health-related program cuts, such as eliminating the Department of Mental Health as its own agency.

Mitchell said the continued cuts to health care have to stop with this budget revision.

“As we try to find a solution, looking at continued cuts is not what’s in the best interest of all Californians,” Mitchell said. “Californians have made it clear just what an effect these life-sustaining programs have on their lives. And it remains to be seen what impact these cuts will have on our long-term budget, in terms of [previous efforts aimed at] keeping people out of acute and more expensive care.”

Letting Californians vote on tax extensions is vital, she said, because an all-cuts budget would mean long-term hurt for California.

“We cannot consider more cuts to these services,” Mitchell said, “because Californians can’t bear it.”

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