Budget Cuts Threaten Health Care Access to California’s Kids

By Mike Odeh

Governor Jerry Brown and legislative leaders announced a budget deal that unnecessarily jeopardizes the health of California’s children. The deal includes the administration’s original proposal to eliminate the Healthy Families Program, and shift nearly 900,000 children enrolled in it to Medi-Cal next year.

Given the state’s fiscal climate and sluggish economy, it’s clear that policymakers need to make difficult budget choices. But it is shortsighted to shift all of those children out of a popular and successful program, with no guarantee that they’ll actually be able to access the care they need in their new coverage. Finding timely medical care will especially be a challenge for children in rural areas, more so if they speak languages other than English. Getting dental care will be even more difficult.

It has long been a challenge to ensure that all children in Medi-Cal find an appropriate primary care provider or a specialist in their area and get an appointment in a timely fashion. So what will happen when hundreds of thousands of additional children also try to access the same care and providers?

As a state, we should be improving health coverage for the 4.5 million California children who currently rely on Medi-Cal and Healthy Families, not put them at risk by balancing the budget on their backs. Make no mistake. Such strategies will only create wider budget gaps in the future if kids aren’t able to get the preventive care they need to stay healthy and succeed in life.

That’s why health care providers and consumer advocates are extremely disappointed in this unprecedented and reckless budget decision. We think there are better choices that don’t risk children’s health: A coalition of more than 40 organizations have endorsed an alternative proposal that would have transitioned a smaller group of children and provided strong protections and safeguards to improve children’s access to care.

California needs to get its priorities straight. We should be putting children first and finding “pro-kid” budget solutions that invest in our children and their future.

Mike Odeh is a health policy advocate at Children Now in Oakland, Calif.

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June 28, 2012  Copyright © 2012 Eastern Group Publications, Inc.

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