Over 600,000 children can count on health insurance coverage.
A Sept. 3 vote of 62 to 5 by the California Assembly saved a program that provides health insurance to low income children, including close to 2,000 Yolo County kids.
AB 1422, a bill authored by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass, helped recover the Healthy Families Program. Enrollment was closed in mid-July. A waiting list of 71,000 children was set up in late August due to the state’s budget crisis and General Fund reductions.
Governor Schwarzenegger signed the bill on Sept. 22.
The bill was able to help the program avoid disenrollment of children currently enrolled in the program and to open the program to new enrollment on Sept. 17.
“This bipartisan effort is one of the most important steps we’ve taken this year,” Bass said in a press release. “Everyone stepped up to the plate – Democrats and Republicans in the Assembly and Senate, the health plans, the State First 5 Commission and the Governor and his staff in working to secure votes.”
The Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board requires approximately $200 million to run the program.
Though the new bill has $100 million less in funding than the original program, Andrew LaMar, a spokesperson for the California Medical Association who supported the bill, said some money is better than none, concerning the state’s financial situation.
Also, the federal government gives a direct financial payback -giving $1 to the state for every $1 it spends on the program in order to support the Healthy Families.
According to a press release, there are several reasons to restore the program.
The Board’s funding was made possible by three key actions: the passage of AB 1422, which provides revenues for the program from an existing gross premium tax paid by Medi-Cal managed care plans, First 5 Commission’s funding for children ages zero to five in the program and program changes to cut Healthy Families Plan expenditures, including increases in subscriber premiums and co-payments for health care services.
“This is a program that has enjoyed widespread support for years,” said Assemblywoman Mariko Yamada, who represents portions of Solano and Yolo County. “Not only is this bill a fine example of bipartisan support, but it’s also one piece of the goal towards healthcare reform and universal healthcare in general.”
There are also long-term results of this program.
“The program deserved to be saved because it has been considered a tremendous success,” LaMar said. “It delivers healthcare cost effectively to children who need it. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand it’s important to have healthy children, who become successful members of society.”
LaMar also said the program saves taxpayers’ money, because people who would otherwise be uninsured will avoid having to go to expensive and overcrowded emergency rooms.
“It makes more sense to treat people at one twentieth the cost, preventing serious health problems at the same time,” LaMar said. “Non-emergency room care saves the state a lot of money.”
Jackie Hausman, children’s health coordinator at First 5 Yolo, said that without the bill, First 5 Yolo was considering revising the Healthy Kids bill, which provides health insurance for those not eligible for Healthy Families and would have required a lot of time and funding.
“We’re really happy a solution was found,” Hausman said. “We’re relieved that it was saved because it would have been ten giant steps backward.”
Katie Villegas, co-chair of the Children’s Health Initiative of Yolo County Children’s Alliance, also praised the legislation.
“It would have been devastating if it ended,” Villegas said. “So many people would have gone without coverage if this bill wasn’t passed.”
It is estimated that it will take about 30 business days to process applications for waitlisted children and to notify families as to whether their children are eligible and have been enrolled in the program. Applications will be processed based on the date of application, with the oldest applications processed first. Actual health care coverage begins 10 days after enrollment in the program.
Program changes will go into effect on Nov. 1.
Yolo County also received a $399,900 grant from the Health & Human Services to fund Yolo County Children’s Alliance, CommuniCare Health Centers, RISE, Inc. and the Yolo Family Resource Center. The grant will help fund active outreach and Medi-Cal and Health Families.
ANGELA SWARTZ can be reached firstname.lastname@example.org.