HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Thursday, December 11th, 2008
ADDITIONAL CUTS TO HEALTH SERVICES WEIGHED
* Senators revisit previously rejected proposals, including denying coverage to low-income working parents, eliminating Medi-Cal benefits, cutting money from public hospitals, etc.
* Democrats and Republicans Senators spar over values; decisions
* Governor warns of “financial Armageddon,” chastises Legislature for inaction
TODAY: Health Access/CPEHN Holiday Party, Oakland: THU, DEC 11th, 4-7pm
You are invited! Drinks and good company: Max’s Diner & Bar, 500 12th St; Come join us!
Click for What’s New on the Health Access WeBlog: Daschle official as HHS Secretary; Say no to “saying no;” Old reports get new life; Tough choices in a bad economy;
SACRAMENTO–The Senate Budget Subcommittee which oversees the health and human services budget, chaired by Los Angeles-are Senator Alex Padilla, reviewed an array of 25 cuts to the health budget, many of which have already been heard and rejected several times this past decade.
Still, with a growing budget gap approaching $30 billion by July 1, 2009, lawmakers are shining a light in every corner. Earlier this week, the state’s four top financial officers issued dire warnings on Monday when describing the state’s fiscal future. By March, the state would literally not have any cash to pay its bills.
It was against that backdrop that the Senate subcommittee Wednesday heard proposals that would have made extremely low-income seniors pay more and low-income children get less.
The cuts included:
* Denying nearly a half-million low-income working parents Medi-Cal coverage, by lowering the eligibility from 100% to 72% of poverty level, cutting off eligbility for parents in families of three making more than $13,000. The cut would be $8.6 million in 2008-09; $109 million in 2009-10, and $342 million in 2011-12, ultimately impacting over 429,000 California parents.
* Eliminating dental, vision, podiatry and several other benefits for 2.5 million parents, seniors, and people with disabilities on Medi-Cal coverage.
* Siphoning funds away from public hospitals on which we all rely.
To view the entire agenda of the hearing, click here.
The tenor of the debate was set almost immediately with the first proposal, which would require seniors, blind and disabled individuals who earn $871 a month to have to spend at least $271 on medical services before their expenses are picked up by the state.
“How would an aged, blind and disabled person be able to pay over $270 a month for health care services, and then pay rent and eat with $600,’’ said Sen. Elaine Alquist. “And that isn’t considering the high cost of living.”
The Department of Finance answered: “We recognize that these are difficult choices..’’
But Alquist shot back, “I only ask that they be real choices….and I don’t hear an answer on how this is really doable.’’
Fellow committee member Roy Ashburn shot back that he was fed up with this type of examination of social programs.
“If that is going to be the reaction, then there are some in this committee that are not going to go for cuts. And there are some who recognize the dire situation,’’ he said. “I’m not advocating that we be heartless or harsh. But we can’t balance this budget if the answer is going to be ‘no.’’’ said Ashburn, who has signed the American’s for Tax Reform “no tax’’ pledge.
The remainder of the hearing continued with a similar tone, with administration and department officials testimony giving a hook for lawmakers to become more passionate about their positions.
In another testy exchange, Republican Bob Huff proposed a $50 copay to use the emergency room for non-emergency services as a means to divert people to other places for care. “If this is not a critical urgent thing, there’s another place to go nearby,’’ Huff said.
The Department of Health Care Services, however, reported that the state already charges a $5 co-pay for using the emergency room inappropriately, prompting a snicker from Sen. Dave Cox of Fair Oaks. “With a $5 copay, why should I go anyplace else,’’ Cox said. Angela Gilliard from the Western Center on Law and Poverty explained: “Five dollars may not sound like a lot to many of us on this committee; we buy lattes and go to lunch. But $5 is a lot’’ to the population that must rely on the state’s health safety net for services–and $50 was enough to discourage a low-income Californian from getting needed care, even emergency care.
The committee took no votes today, but Padilla made clear that wasn’t the purpose. The purpose was, “to create daylight to work together.’’
For instance, Padilla noted the copay issue – that perhaps some level of copay between $5 and $50 was in order. Padilla also seemed inclined to continue to delay the start of the SB437 pilot programs, which would streamline enrollment for children into Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, thus getting more eligible children insured–a worthy goal but one that would cost more money.
The Senate and Assembly budget committees will be meeting throughout the next two weeks before the December holidays. At a press conference the same time, a frustrated Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger told reporters that he felt lawmakers are doing a dismal job while the state “headed toward financial Armageddon.’’ Schwarzenegger has called the Legislature into a second special session to address the budget, under which the body has until January 15th to pass some mix of “solutions’’ – cuts or revenues – on the magnitude of between $17 billion to $24 billion.
Health Access will continue to keep advocates abreast of budget movements in Sacramento. For information, contact Hanh Quach at firstname.lastname@example.org.