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Healthy Families: A Casualty of California’s Staggering Budget Deficit?

Healthy Families: A Casualty of California’s Staggering Budget Deficit?

Picture of Barbara Feder Ostrov

After California voters soundly rejected several proposals to mitigate the state's staggering $21 billion budget deficit, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is suggesting unheard-of cutbacks in health and social programs. This time, the discussion isn't just about cutting money from the Healthy Families subsidized health insurance program, it's about scrapping it altogether.

That's a pretty shocking prospect. Healthy Families, California's SCHIP program, covers nearly a million children whose families are too poor to afford private health insurance but not poor enough to qualify for Medi-Cal, the state's Medicaid program. Amid mounting concerns over the program's future, officials noted on the Healthy Families website that the program still is accepting applications - for now.

The Governor is also mulling other steep cuts in Medi-Cal and the outright elimination of the state's CalWorks welfare program.

Advocates like Health Access' Anthony Wright are apoplectic about the prospect of eliminating Healthy Families. While Wright believes that federal lawmakers will reject the Governor's plan for $750 million in cuts to Medi-Cal, "we are very concerned that there are not the same federal constraints to prevent the Healthy Families cuts," he wrote me in an email today.

According to a new report by the Sacramento-based group, more than 2 million Californians could lose or be denied health coverage if these and other health cutbacks actually take place.

"This budget, if enacted, would represent the most profound roll-back of California public health coverage in state history."

"If enacted," of course, is always the big question after the so-called "May revise," in which the Governor proposes changes to the state budget mid-year to bring it back into balance. During this annual game of chicken, proposed deep cuts in popular social programs often are used to force protesting lawmakers to cut something else.

This year, of course, all bets are off. As you monitor these proposed cuts, it's worth checking in with folks from your local safety net clinics, hospitals and public health department. You can bet that they're drawing their own conclusions about what such drastic cuts will mean for them - and that's a story for your community.

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