Live-blogging the conference committee…

HEALTH ACCESS UPDATE
Saturday, June 14th, 2008

BUDGET CONFERENCE COMMITTEE DEBATES HEALTH ITEMS
* Budget Conference Committee attempts to reconcile Assembly, Senate decisions
* Drug discount program, QSRs, and provider rates debated; Most items left open.
* These and other cuts dependent on final budget resolution and revenues

Click Here for What’s New on the Health Access WeBlog: Healthy Blogging; Consumers Union’s Cover America Tour; the LA Times on This Year’s Health Reform; Hospitals Auctioning Medical Debt; C-Section as a Pre-Existing Condition; Speaker Bass on the Budget; Jones to be Health Chair; the Health Divide Between Obama and McCain; the Individual Market; High Deductible Plans; the Field Poll on Health Cuts; Health Access is Hiring; Budget Resources; the Biggest Threat to Health Reform: the Budget Cuts; New Families USA Report Grading California’s Consumer Protections; Taking Consumer Representation Seriously; and Full Real-Time Budget Conference Committee Reports!

Budget season is in full swing as the bi-cameral Budget Conference Committee began meeting this past Thursday.

The conference committee is made up of six members — three from the Assembly and three from the Senate. The Senate conferees are Senators Denise Ducheny (the chair), Bob Dutton, and Mike Machado. The Assembly conferees are Assemblymen John Laird (the vice-chair), Mark Leno and Roger Niello. Together, their task is to pore through a 439-page agenda contains all the differences between the Senate and Assembly version of the budget and reconcile them.

Health programs sit right in the middle of that agenda and came up Saturday afternoon. Health Access tracked discussions on the health budget on our blog in real time at:
www.health-access.org/blogger.html.

For people tracking this issue, here’s a scorecard of all the proposed cuts, including those accepted, rejected, and those where there is disargeement between the two houses:
http://www.health-access.org/preserving/Docs/BudgetScorecard%20061408.pdf

Some of the most severe cuts, like direct cuts to Medi-Cal eligibility for working parents, were rejected by both the Assembly and Senate majorities and those are not “in conference.” However, the legislators again repeated today that those cuts are still pending, unless the budget includes revenues to offset those cuts.

The conference committee focused on items where the Assembly and the Senate took different actions. That includes:
* the start of the California Discount Prescription Drug Program, where the Senate voted to defund the program and delay the start of it for a year, and the Assembly (along with the Governor) allowing the program to get underway, to start negotiating with drug companies.
* the question of imposing additional paperwork burdens for children on Medi-Cal, through quartely status reports. the Assembly voted against the proposal; the Senate put forward a modified proposal to have children’s families renew their coverage every six months, rather than on an annual basis.
* the biggest dollar amounts considered were whether to restore the 10% provider rate cut made this February for doctors, hospitals and others who care for patients with Medi-Cal coverage.

Most items heard today, including these three areas, remained open while lawmakers directed staff to work out compromises or gather more information about the programs. Before leaving the items “open,” lawmakers debated quarterly status reporting for children and adults, and the 10% rate cut for providers, as well as the frustration that many of these cuts mean losing federal matching dollars as well.

“We can talk about all we want to about restoring cuts, or we can defer the consideration of cuts, but until we can put focus as to where we are going to go with revenues, we are creating a false document,” said Sen. Mike Machado, urging lawmakers to look realistically at the state’s fiscal problems. “I think it’s very difficult to talk about this if we’re not going to talk about the revenue side. We’re creating a budget in a vacuum.”

One cut that was made was to accept the Governor’s proposed reduction to hospitals who do not contract with Medi-Cal.

The committee ended Saturday afternoon on an up note, with some federal funds identified that could be applied to California Children’s Services, which pays for medical care for children with chronic illnesses and disabilities. The committee approved a compromise measure between the two houses on this issue.

Again, no decisions are final until a final budget is passed and signed into law.

Health Access will continue to track the Budget Conference Committee, which will resume Monday, June 16th at noon to continue discussion of health-related items, including to clinics and the Healthy Families program.

In the meantime, Health Access keeps a scorecard of items of interest to health advocates. For more information, contact Hanh Kim Quach, the author of this report, at hquach@health-access.org.

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

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