Running into “a bright red moral line”

The team at Health Access will continue following the Budget Conference Committee’s review of the health care cuts, both on this blog and on our Twitter account at @healthaccess, or www.twitter.com/healthaccess.

The Budget Conference Committee reconvened Monday only to encounter “a bright red moral line” amid the governor’s proposed cuts: elimination of “state only” programs for dialysis, breast and cervical cancer treatment, post-partum care and non-digestive nutrition for low-income patients.

After a dramatic discussion, the committee voted against killing the programs, packaged together to shave $20 million off California’s gigantic $24 billion deficit. “If we go with the governor’s proposals No. 2, 3, 4 and 5, people will die,” Assemblyman Kevin de Leon (D) told his colleagues.

Assemblyman Robert Blumenthal (D) was blunt: “This is a bright red moral line we cannot cross. It’s something I am very worried about.”

Still, the prospect of drawing a line when the task of balancing the budget seems so Sisyphean struck Senator Bob Dutton (R) as impractical. The budget must be balanced by June’s close.
“I don’t think it’s right saying people are going to die,” Dutton said. “I mean, I could die in a car crash today when I leave here. I still support the governor’s proposal.”

The unprecedented public committee meeting offered a rare peek at how deeply divided five Assembly members and five Senators can become when the stakes are so high. Tension was palpable between the two political parties, between Assembly members and Senators, between urban and rural elected representatives – even between those who believed previously struck budget agreements should prevail, and those who believed all bets were off.

Many items on the governor’s chopping block were “held open” for later discussion, and votes, following committee members’ request for more data from the Department of Finance and the Legislative Analyst’s Office.

That was the case with a controversial proposed waiver the governor is seeking from the federal government, which the Department of Finance said would save the general fund $1 billion. The governor says the waiver will allow him flexibility to operate outside of some of the federal government’s Medicaid rules, and the conditions of accepting billions from the economic stimulus package, the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act. The LAO said the savings were “speculative” at best. The proposal was held over when Committee Vice Chair Denise Ducheny (D) sought more specific information, noting that California already has lowest per-patient Medicaid spending in the nation.

Also controversial, and held over, was a proposal to restrict Medi-Cal services to new legal immigrants and people allowed to relocate to the U.S. by the federal government – such as survivors of the Vietnam War who aided U.S. troops.

The latter group “tends to be refugees as a whole, mostly political refugees” said Ducheny. She favored finding out if the federal government is willing to devote more funds to help pay for health care services for this population.

A proposal to eliminate Adult Day Health Care opened a discussion as to whether various programs aimed at helping the elderly, including Alzheimer’s victims, shouldn’t be re-examined, restructured and streamlined to make them more efficient. The proposal, which the Department of Finance said would save $170.5 million, was held over.

Two of the budget trims that were approved Monday called for conducting a therapeutic category review of antipsychotic drugs for mental illness (an estimated savings of $1.5 million) and requiring manufacturers’ rebates on HIV/AIDS and cancer drugs.

More quotes and blow-by-blow descriptions of votes and discussion are at the Twitter feed at www.twitter.com/healthaccess. The committee resumes its examination of cuts in health care services at 10 a.m. on Tuesday, June 9th.

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

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