By Wendy Lazarus
As we look back at a legislative session engulfed by an economic downturn, where legislators had to make tough decisions, we can celebrate one true victory. With a last minute legislative deal and a signature by the Governor this past week, nearly one million children will be able to keep their health coverage through California’s Healthy Families Program. So why is this program so important?
Four-year-old Tadd was born with a rare condition known as Vaters Syndrome. This required an emergency procedure to reroute his intestines through a colostomy and other related surgeries. While Tadd appears quite healthy, his condition requires routine care and specialized treatment now and for the rest of his life. As his parents attend college to improve their lives, they worry about Tadd and how he will continue to get the care he needs. Today, they can rest easier knowing that health coverage for Tadd is still available.
Tadd receives his health coverage from Healthy Families, which provides affordable health coverage for children in low-income, working families in California. State and federal dollars help to defray the cost of health coverage for these children. Families also contribute by paying premiums and co-payments for services. This isn’t a hand-out; it’s a helping hand.
Due to California’s budget deficit, many important programs, like Healthy Families, were threatened with cuts or even closure. Over the past few months, the Program froze enrollment for newly eligible children, placing nearly 90,000 kids on a waiting list. And Healthy Families was set to notify parents, starting October 1, that their children currently in Healthy Families would be disenrolled.
Ensuring that kids’ health coverage remained available was going to take creative solutions and everybody working together to find funding for this highly-successful program. First 5 California took the initial step by contributing $81.4 million, but that still left a gap of more than $112 million.
AB1422, authored by Assembly Speaker Karen Bass and Senate President Steinberg, brought about a solution that not only provided the necessary funding, but did it in a way that made economic sense for California. This bill drew on federal funds to help save the Program. Tremendous credit goes to California’s health plans for their leadership in crafting this creative solution.
Perhaps more importantly, a bi-partisan effort helped to pass this bill and secure needed health coverage for children. Our elected leaders recognized that many California families are struggling to make ends meet or to get back on their feet, and that AB 1422 would be a life-saver for these families.
During this economic crisis, we have seen a huge rise in people (and children specifically) losing employer-based coverage, making the viability of this program even more critical. Before enrollment in Healthy Families was frozen, there had been record numbers of children enrolling each month, and the need continues to grow.
With our legislators and the Governor all working together, Healthy Families re-opened its doors to hundreds of thousands of children on September 17. The parents of the nearly one million children, enrolled in Healthy Families—including young Tadd—and the tens of thousands of children waiting to enroll can sleep better tonight knowing that their children will have health coverage as the school year begins.
As we make our evaluations of this legislative year, we can be proud that our state leaders reached across the aisle to prioritize children’s health and found a cost-effective solution to save Healthy Families. Our job, now, in these tough economic times, is to keep this vital program strong and build on this positive momentum for kids until every child in California who needs health care can get it.