By the time of publication Governor Jerry Brown and the State Legislature would have already voted on the final details of the 2012-13 budget. California is in the midst of a fiscal disaster, and to say so would be an understatement. There have been painful cuts, many to youth and older students, who are bearing the brunt of those cuts.
One example is higher education. The public university systems have dramatically increased tuition in the last five years as state revenue has declined; the University of California and California State University were cut $750 million each this fiscal year. The cost of attendance for a UC is $12,192, almost double the tuition from five years ago. In the last four years, the CSU has approved tuition increases six times. The most recent 9 percent increase raised tuition to $5,970 annually. Higher education is slipping from the reach of many students who cannot afford the increasing tuition.
The Governor has proposed to freeze tuition hikes for two years IF voters approve his tax initiative on the November ballot that would raise state sales and income taxes. If it fails to pass, it would trigger a $250 million cut for each university system. It would seem that students are being used as human shields.
A program currently on the chopping block which has spurred much outrage across the state is the possible elimination of the Healthy Families Program, a successful, low-cost health care insurance program that provides care to 900,000 children in California. I think it is a move that would bring harmful consequences and threaten the health of 900,000 children.
The proposal, which would save the state $13 million this upcoming fiscal year, would transition all 900,000 Healthy Families members to the Medi-Cal system, a system that is already struggling to serve its 3.6 million members.
The transition would take place in a short amount of time and therein poses another critical problem - there will be a disruption in the continuation of care. Many practitioners who accept Healthy Families do not accept Medi-Cal, and the challenge would be finding health care providers in a timely manner who are accessible. During a teleconference on Monday I heard from a mother who resides in Humboldt County whose children were transferred over to Medi-Cal from Healthy Families due to personal economic reasons. She has been waiting to obtain a dental appointment for her children since November because there is only one dentist in Humboldt who serves Medi-Cal patients, the next closest one is three hours away. Is this the type of care we want our children to receive when there's another existing option?
Additionally, many Healthy Families members do not qualify for no-cost Medi-Cal and will therefore be required to pay a determined "share of cost" in one lump sum payment before being able to see a provider, and that amount can range from $1,000 to $1,500. How can we expect lowincome families to afford that? What will inevitably happen is that children will not seek preventive care and will incur costly emergency room bills.
Children who have chronic diseases and require specialty care will also be harmed because they will lose access to their specialists.
The proposal to axe Healthy Families isn't even fiscally sound. It may save the state $13 million this upcoming fiscal year, but it will lose $200 million for each of the next two years through a continuation of an industry-supported managed care organization (MCO) assessment that California relies on to fund children's health care.
I think this proposal to eliminate Healthy Families is reckless and poorly thought-out. Making cuts is necessary for the state's budget, but jeopardizing the health and future well being of 900,000 children is despicable. The Governor and State Legislature need to draw the line somewhere.
The citizens of this state have already endured so many painful cuts because, in my opinion, the state has failed to keep its own books in order and now we all have to pay, literally. I accept that this is what we as Califoraians must endure because of the ineptitude of legislators, but when the State tries to balance its budget by threatening the health of children, that's when a recall of the Governor is in order.