Kids lose the battle

The Legislative Budget Conference Committee just approved Semi-Annual reporting for children on Medi-Cal.

Right now, children renew their eligibility annually, and adults twice a year. But periodic status reporting is a *passive aggressive* way for the state to reduce the number of people in Medi-Cal by hoping they don’t “report” their status on time. Under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s original — more draconian — proposal requiring reporting every three months, the administration assumed 471,500 children (a drop off of 24%) would be eliminated from the rolls.

We don’t have officials numbers yet on how many children would lose coverage under semi-annual reporting. But let’s just slice the Quarterly number in half — just to give us a working number — and say about 235,750 children would lose coverage under semi-annual reporting.

The compromise attempts to soften the blow by saying the semi-annual status reports will sunset (for children only, adults will continue to be semi-annual) by December 31, 2011. But what does the sunset really mean for the child who needs asthma inhalers this year. Who falls of his bike, next year. Who gets pneumonia, in two years?

They’d be in line, to get back on Medi-Cal. Long-suffering counties, who will not receive extra funding to process the additional paperwork as a result of Semi-Annual Status Reports, will have a hard time handling the extra load, meaning it will be harder for kids to get coverage.

Assemblyman John Laird, who sadly will be departing the Legislature this year, gave a fantastic speech about how he hated having to support this compromise.

“I’m extremely unhappy about this…it’s not the right direction to go….I’m kicking and screaming, but going to vote for this. But, if there is a hint that people want to move toward something more draconian, I will wage a full-pitched fight and advocate to go back to where it is now (annual reporting.)”

Soon-to-be Sen. Mark Leno reiterated Laird’s position also.

“I think we need to be honest about this. We’re shifting the responsibilities of children to county hospitals and emergency rooms. It’s not an efficient way to have health care provided.”

Also part of the compromise: an assessment on the effects of semi-annual status reporting. But we won’t get to see the results of it until December, 2010 — when we have just a year left until the sunset.

Republicans got to dodge a vote. They wanted more kids to drop off rolls with quarterly status reports.

Overall, this is a really profoundly troubling budget and a really pathetic statement of our priorities when we let more than 200,000 children — who otherwise would be eligible for coverage — just fall off and go without healthcare.

And it’s really sad that the choice had to come between cutting already inadequate Medi-Cal reimbursement rates for doctors who care for these kids — or letting really low-income kids (living in families that earn less than $17,600 a year for three) go without health insurance.

This should not be the choice… of worse and worse. This should not be the state we are fighting for.

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

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