Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg asked Gov. Jerry Brown administration officials Thursday to preserve a children's health care program for now, asking the governor to backtrack on one of his June budget demands.
Legislative Democrats reluctantly agreed to phase out Healthy Families in 2013 to satisfy Brown in budget talks in exchange for softer cuts to other programs that serve low-income Californians. Healthy Families serves more than 860,000 lower middle class children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal but struggle to afford health insurance.
It has been a popular program with bipartisan support, but Brown argued that California needs to move those children to Medi-Cal in preparation for the 2014 federal health care overhaul.
Steinberg said in his letter he does not believe there are enough Medi-Cal providers to serve Healthy Families children by January. He said that is particularly the case in his Sacramento-based district, where 11,160 Health Net enrollees lack assurances they will be able to see their same providers in Medi-Cal.
"This is of significant concern to me and it clearly illustrates the need to slow the transition," Steinberg wrote.
Healthy Families advocates say the state won't save much money from shifting children but will endanger their coverage because Medi-Cal lacks enough doctors and other providers to serve 860,000 new patients. Advocates believe Healthy Families has better providers in no small part because it has higher reimbursements than Medi-Cal, whose rates the state has cut dramatically to balance past budgets.
PHOTO CREDIT In July 2009, Liam Waring of Davis had health insurance through the Healthy Families program. Autumn Cruz / Sacramento Bee: