The Quiet before the Storm

There’s the steady drone of doom and gloom emanating from the Capitol, but Sacramento is collectively holding its breath, waiting for Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger to release his updated budget proposal tomorrow in what’s known in Capitol parlance as the “May Revise.”

This second version of the budget comes out a month after tax day, when the state has a better idea what kind of income it has to work with the following year ….and by all accounts, it has not been pretty. Estimates of the deficit — which started at $14.5 billion in January — are more like $16 billion to $20 billion now.

While the entire state budget is $140 billion — the general fund, where we have the shortfall — is $100 billion. That means the deficit is nearly one-fifth of our budget.

Accompanying the bad figures are equally as bad rumors: Cuts, cuts and more cuts. On the flip side, precious little in new income for the state.

For most of this decade, we have grappled with multibillion dollar deficits larger than the entire budgets of many of the states in the US. And what have we done? We’ve borrowed and cut.

And now, we’re down to the bone. Many of you may recall — and here’s a reminder — that the governor already proposed more than $1.1 billion in health program cuts, which will mean:

  • 500,000 children losing health coverage over the next five years because the state will require that their families report every three months any changes in their life.
  • People with disabilities, who live on (at most) $997 a month, could develop infections and sores on their body and other sensitive areas because they lose coverage for incontinence creams and washes.
  • The poorest adults will lose their dental care — and many with already poor dental health will not treat their cavities, develop gum disease, abscesses and possibly lose their teeth.

We will all know at 1 p.m. tomorrow what the total damage will be. But this we know — There are only three ways to cut Medi-Cal:

  • Reimbursement rates for providers — Check. That was already proposed in January and approved by the Legislature months later to go into effect July 1.
  • Benefits to recipients — Check. See a couple of the bullet points above.
  • Eligibility — Quasi – check. Requiring families to justify their income every three months is a passive aggressive way to knock people off of the Medi-Cal rolls. The state is secretly hoping that families will be too overwhelmed, their life in too much chaos, they will lose or somehow fail to complete the form and send it in. Of course, that means 500,000 children won’t get health care….

By process of elimination, a direct cut to eligibility is the only thing left for the state to do to the Medi-Cal program.

Let’s cry ourselves to sleep and see what’s in store for us tomorrow.

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

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