With just about two weeks left for Gov. Jerry Brown to unveil the state budget, Alameda County officials and health care advocates are scrambling to get him to reconsider his threat to reduce funding to counties that provide care for their indigent populations.
“The Governor’s budget proposal greatly jeopardizes what we are trying to provide” for the county’s most vulnerable populations, asserted Wright Lassiter III, Alameda Health System’s chief executive officer, at a press conference here earlier Tuesday in front of one of Alameda County’s widest health care safety nets: Highland Hospital.
The conference was intended to shine a spotlight on what speaker after speaker called “dangerous cuts” proposed by Brown in his revised May budget, and keep the pressure on him to not include those proposals in the final budget.
The Assembly Appropriations Committee is in the midst of reviewing Brown’s revised budget. Lawmakers are expected to vote on the finalized budget by the middle of June.
While health care advocates are lauding many of the provisions in the revised budget, particularly one that promises to expand, with enhanced support from the state, Medi-Cal, the federal-state funded health care insurance for low-income people, they are worried that he is making a mistake by proposing to reduce money to counties to care for their indigent.
For starters, said Alex Briscoe, director of the Alameda County Health Care Services Agency, Brown wants to redirect $300 million from the counties to the state this fiscal year, under the “false assumption” that Obamacare will cover all of the state’s uninsured when it is fully implemented on Jan. 1, 2014, either through Medi-Cal expansion or Covered California, the state’s federally subsidized online insurance exchange.
The cuts are only going to get deeper. In fiscal 2015, Brown wants to lessen about $900 million in funding to the counties, and about $1.3 billion in the third year.
“County health programs are the only safety net for the hundreds of people who will be un-enrolled,” Briscoe warned.
Of the 3 to 4 million Californians projected by UCLA and UC Berkeley who will be left out of any form of health coverage next year—either because they are undocumented, do not qualify for Medi-Cal, miss the enrollment period, or who simply cannot afford to purchase insurance on the exchange—some 100,000 of them reside in Alameda County, noted County Supervisor Wilma Chan, who is in the forefront of the campaign to keep Brown from carrying out the county cuts.
If he did, she asserted, “It would be a penny wise and pound foolish decision.”
Briscoe pointed out that since 1991, Alameda County has had robust indigent health care programs, probably more than any other county in the state. The governor’s proposal, he said, “would strip the county of providing that care.” The result will be that more people will turn to emergency rooms for their primary health care.
Even as it is, the state does not provide Alameda County “anywhere near” what it costs to run its health care services—about $75 million a year, Lassiter said.