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Healthy Families: The Unkindest Cut of All

There were certainly tough choices to make in the state budget this year, but Californians expect Democrats to defend working families. That’s why the Legislature’s vote to cut the state’s Healthy Families Program by $144 million is best described by Shakespeare’s famous line as “the unkindest cut of all.”

Healthy Families is a vital program that makes sure middle-class children have access to affordable, quality dental, vision and medical care. As the mother of three young children, I know how important it is for kids to get regular health checkups. By detecting potential medical issues early, we give our kids the best chance of avoiding serious illness and recovering from physical injury. To me, it is unthinkable that California’s kids would be denied health insurance, even for one day, because of the dysfunction that has come to define Sacramento.

Health insurance is something you have, but hope you’ll never need. At 13, I broke my back in a ski lift accident at Lake Tahoe.

Without quality healthcare, there is no way I would have received the necessary medical attention that helped me live a successful life. For too many families, an unexpected medical issue can cause bankruptcy. Nearly half of American bankruptcies are linked to medical costs, and most who file for medical bankruptcy are in middle class households. Fully 56% were homeowners and a like number attended college before the medical bills came due.

Even though delay can seriously complicate recovery or make a minor medical issue more severe, the Legislature’s budget vote forced California’s families to do just that. The budget “solution” created a waiting list of more than 60,000 children and the risk of dropping coverage for thousands of families that already have it. Governor Schwarzenegger’s additional $50 million line-item cut from the program put universal healthcare even further out of reach. The First Five Commission contributed to help our youngest kids, but the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board still imposed a waiting list and developed procedures to drop insured children from the rolls.

While our state Legislature cut Healthy Families, President Barack Obama, Majority Leader Harry Reid and Speaker Nancy Pelosi made children’s health insurance a priority. The federal government has helped 13 states expand this bipartisan program, while California choked off funding, leaving millions of federal dollars on the table. A survey conducted on behalf of my office found that at least ten counties are developing contingency plans to fund health insurance for our kids with local and federal funds if the gridlock continues in Sacramento. Of course, this is more difficult because the state made large cuts to local government funding as well.

Now, the same legislators who delayed healthcare to tens of thousands of California children have put forward Assembly Bill 1422 as a “gut and amend” bill. This hastily crafted proposal imposes a new tax on health plans and increases premiums for families. It is better than doing nothing, but it is only a temporary solution that kicks the can down the road when the tax provisions sunset on January 1, 2011. By replacing definite state funding with time-limited dollars, the Legislature practically guarantees we’ll be back having this discussion next year.

It is worth noting that although backed primarily by Democrats, Healthy Families is also supported by thoughtful Republicans who understand it is the right thing to do. We’ll need that nonpartisan cooperation at the local level to find a permanent solution that keeps faith with the working families Sacramento abandoned just weeks ago.

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