The successful health insurance program, Healthy Families, was put on the chopping block as one outcome of the budget agreement between Governor Jerry Brown and the Democratic-led legislature. With this decision, money will be saved but the health of 800,000 children will be put at risk.
The mission of Healthy Families is to provide health coverage for children from low-income families whose household income is too high to qualify for MediCal but too low to be able to purchase medical insurance. The program’s positive results led some to dream that at some point the coverage for children would be extended to cover the parents as well.
Instead, the program is being eliminated, victim of the brutal impact of the fiscal crisis on the state’s budget. The thinking behind this is to save $13 million in general funds in 2012-13 and $73 million in 2014-15 by shifting the beneficiaries of Healthy Families over to MediCal.
The risk with this solution is that many young people will encounter difficulties securing health coverage.
It is possible that MediCal’s new beneficiaries will have problems finding medical care because the payment for services is much lower less than what Healthy Families paid and each day fewer and fewer doctors are willing to participate in the program. Fortunately, an agreement was reached with Kaiser Permanent to continue the coverage of 250,000 children who are patients under Healthy Families. But, this isn’t enough.
The most distressing part of all of this is that there is an option that avoids this situation by taking advantage of the 2014 implementation of healthcare reform and shifting a reduced number of beneficiaries to MediCal.
The impact of the budget deficit is taking its toll on all Californians. But that doesn’t mean we should be resigned to accept cuts that put into jeopardy the health and safety of our children.