The number of California’s uninsured children is expected to double in 2009. This year, 1.4 million children currently enrolled in the Healthy Families Program will lose coverage due to recent budget cuts.
As of June 2009, the Healthy Families Program provided low-cost health, dental and vision coverage to 919,542 children up to age 19. Eligible families include working families with incomes between 100 and 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
Suanne Buggy, director of public affairs for the state Department of Public Health, said that the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board determined that there are not enough available funds to cover costs of the program’s expenditures for the 2009-2010 fiscal year.
It is likely that tens of thousand of children will be forced to drop the program in October, she said.
The MRMIB, which administers the program, established a statewide waiting list for Healthy Families, effective July 17. As of July 28, 33,146 children have been placed on the waiting list.
As part of the 2009 budget plan, the California legislature cut Healthy Families by $128.6 million, and Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger cut $50 million more from the program soon after.
As a result, the cuts could worsen. Federal funding provides two dollars to every dollar spent on Healthy Families. The program may ultimately lose more than $500 million, said Buggy.
In Sacramento County alone, it is estimated that 11,000 low-income children will lose coverage, and more than 17,000 could lose benefits.
“The sad fact is that some children will become seriously ill, and perhaps even die, because they did not get the necessary preventive care or care early in the course of their illness,” said Roger Dunstan, principal consultant for the Senate Health Committee.
According to Dunstan, the cuts to Healthy Families are actually not likely to save the state a significant amount of money.
“We are leaving hundreds of millions of federal funds on the table that will be lost to California and allocated to other states,” he said.
The MRMIB has attempted in recent months to lessen the impact of the cuts to Healthy Families, and is currently working with the Health and Human Services Agency and the First 5 California Children and Families Commission in an attempt to receive additional funds to help support the program. The board will meet again in August to determine and authorize next steps.
“The cuts and vetoes have left a lot of people scrambling and trying to find additional resources,” said Dunstan. “That may be successful and, of course, may not.“
Krystal Moreno Lee, health policy associate for Children Now, which is a non-profit organization that advocates for children’s welfare, stressed the importance of maintaining the Healthy Families Program.
“It is our opinion that the state must prioritize children in the budget and these cuts to kids are unconscionable,” Lee said. “We believe that other options are available to the legislature and the governor in terms of generating new revenue via oil tax, alcohol tax, tobacco tax and corporate tax reforms.”
SARAH HANSEL can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.