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Deep Impact: Tips for Journalists Covering California's Health Budget Cuts

Deep Impact: Tips for Journalists Covering California's Health Budget Cuts

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

As California lawmakers finally reach a budget agreement, it's time to start assessing how the proposed deep cuts in health care services may affect your community.

Medi-Cal, California's Medicaid program, will be cut by $1.3 billion. In-Home Supportive Services programs, which provide care to the elderly and disabled, will be cut by $224 million. The state's SCHIP children's health insurance program, known as Healthy Families, will be spared from outright elimination, but its budget will be cut by $124 million, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Healthy Families already has started to place children on a wait list for services in anticipation of the cuts.

Some context here: the proposed Healthy Families cuts counter a trend the New York Times' Kevin Sack recently covered in which states are actually expanding health coverage for children in the midst of deep recession. The depths of California's cuts are particularly striking for a state that pioneered health safety net programs.

I'm monitoring California budget developments on Google News and on Twitter using the hashtag #cabudget. Updates and liberal reaction also can be found on the blog of the advocacy groupHealth Access. Capitol Weekly has a nice scoop on Republican reaction to the budget here.

Here are a few ideas for checking out how the proposed budget cuts might affect people in your area:

1. Contact local Healthy Families program administrators. One way to find out is to go to the state Healthy Families website and go to the plans and provider page, where you can select your county from a drop-down menu and get contact information for the plans in your area. Another way is to find organizations that help people enroll for Healthy Families, usually safety-net health clinics or nonprofits. To do that, click here, scroll down to the bottom of the page, and enter a zip code to find a list of organizations with helpful contact information.

2. Contact administrators of local community clinics or regional consortiums. The California Primary Care Association is a good place to start if you're unfamiliar with the safety net health system in your area.

3. Contact your local Medi-Cal or Medi-Cal Managed Care office. Click here for a list by county.

Over time, as the budget cuts start to hit home and adults and children drop off the state's health insurance rolls, you may start to see more of an impact on your local safety-net clinics and emergency rooms.

It's a good time to get a baseline count of average emergency room and community clinic visits at this time of year so you can monitor for any changes in the coming months (keep in mind that the fall-winter flu season always increases volume in ERs and clinics).

It's also a good time to check in with government health providers and community clinics in your area to see what, if any, federal stimulus money they're applying for. Will those funds help mitigate the severe health budget cuts California now faces?


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