Assemblymembers on Guv’s budget: “Not the wisest thing”

Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s self-described “draconian” budget proposals began sounding a little less inevitable by the end of Thursday’s lengthy Assembly Budget Subcommittee hearing at the Capitol.

A strong showing of citizen-advocates opposed many of the cuts, emphasizing the benefits of threatened health programs ranging from one that provides infected jail inmates with HIV and AIDS drugs to the widely accessed Adult Day Health Care program.

Members of the subcommittee chaired by Assemblyman Jerry Hill (D) noted that if the governor’s proposals were to be adopted, the costs for alternatives would be higher in the long run.

Cases in point:
* The Office of AIDS program buying discounted HIV-AIDS drugs for county jail inmates prevents costly and hazardous outbreaks of disease. The governor would cut the entire $9.5 million portion of the program for counties – and then would also transfer more prison inmates to county jails, which cannot afford the drugs.

* The governor would eliminate vision coverage for kids whose families buy discounted health insurance through the Healthy Families SCHIP program. Lawmakers noted that this move would cost the state uncounted federal dollars by preventing better classroom performance by children who need glasses.

* A proposal to eliminate Adult Day Health Care drew one of the largest crowds of opponents, who testified that the option of long-term housing was unaffordable. Another option, for household members to quit their jobs to care for the participants 24-7 would cost California productive workers and income taxes.

* Administration spokesmen argued that Family Planning Services funded by a 9-to-1 federal match needed to be eliminated because “coming up with 10-cents on the dollar in this environment” was difficult. Legislators questioned that assessment, and suggested the Administration go find even more programs with a $9 federal match for every $1 spent by the state.

Assemblyman Jim Beall Jr. (D) noted that moving ahead with health program cuts would be short-sighted because of the likelihood of federal health reform creating opportunities to restructure delivery of health care in California.

In particular, Beall said, new federal rules about mental health care getting parity with physical health care should pave innovative paths for blending delivery of care.

The final segment of the 6-hour hearing, interrupted by the second Assembly floor vote on Sen. Abel Maldonado’s nomination for lieutenant governor, was dedicated to the last item on the agenda: a proposed shift of at least $1 billion from Proposition 63 Mental Health Services Act dollars to the general fund.

The item brought out perhaps the largest turnout of the day, with advocates from Long Beach to Sonoma lining up to tell stories of how the MHSA saved money, and lives. After a Sacramento woman tallied the cost – over $2 million — of her mentally ill mother’s numerous hospitalizations, she made the point that early intervention through MHSA-style programs would have led to far less costly, and tragic, outcomes.

Of the proposal to shift MHSA dollars to the general fund, Assemblyman Wesley Chesbro (D) said “The impact of this will be severe if it’s allowed to go forward.”

Following the entire presentation, Hill said, “We fully understand the governor’s request,” regarding the mental health funds. “This is probably not the wisest thing to do.”

Health Access California promotes quality, affordable health care for all Californians.

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