As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Fate Of Healthy Families

One of the better tangible policy changes during the first 6 months of the Obama Administration is the expansion of SCHIP, the State Children's Health Insurance Program. Starting from the premise that all children deserve access to health insurance, SCHIP is a state/federal partnership that seeks to cover children who fall between the gaps, whose families make too much money to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough money to afford health insurance. The program has been wildly successful since its introduction under the Clinton Administration, and virtually every state has expanded their state-based SCHIP budgets to cover the maximum amounts of children.

Every state except California, that is. As part of the budget revision, the Legislature cut Healthy Families, causing between a $128 and $144 million shortfall in the program's current budget. With his veto pen, the Governor (illegally?) slashed $50 million more. The total, as much as a $194 million shortfall, is over 50% of its budget. This has led to the only waitlisting in the country for an SCHIP program.

The program already froze enrollment earlier this month, quickly amassing a waiting list of some 22,000 kids in need of health care, and swapped its application payment assistance program for $4.6 million in savings. Now, to cope with the cuts, it's expecting to disenroll hundreds of thousands of participants starting later this fall [...]

No talk of preserving a safety net for the neediest here. Disenrollment will be based on when participants entered the program. Children who hit their one-year coverage anniversary will not be eligible to renew their enrollment, and will instead be moved to that growing waiting list.

"At this point, it is strictly based on eligibility renewal dates," Puddefoot said. "Those children who were enrolled in July or August, and those children who were first enrolled in September will be the first to be disenrolled.

This could impact as many as 900,000 children.

Officials with the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board met in Sacramento today to figure out the policy for waitlisting or disenrollment, and to explore additional avenues of support to fill the program gap. Many have speculated that First Five, the successful voter-approved program to support young children, could provide some funding, but they cannot cover a $194 million dollar hole, and their mandate allows them only to support children between 0-5. At the meeting, the board basically punted.

The task of shedding hundreds of thousands of children from the public Healthy Families health insurance program - or finding ways to keep some enrolled - was put off Thursday until Aug. 13 by the board managing the program.

The Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board must come up with a plan to respond to deep cuts in California's budget, including Healthy Families [...]

Disenrolling children from Healthy Families "is something we do not relish doing," said Cliff Allenby, the board's chairman, as members listened to a number of speakers anticipating harm that will come from cutting so many children from insurance. Allenby said the board "may have no choice," but is looking at ways to restructure the program to reduce costs and raise money for premiums from other sources.

Among the options under consideration: eliminating vision benefits, increasing co-pays and changing reimbursement schedules.

First Five committed to help with some money, but failed to delineate the amount.

I know one way to instantly restore $50 million in funding for poor children - by overriding Arnold's possibly illegal vetoes.

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