Anthony Cannella: California shouldn't have dumped Healthy Families

May 3, 2013 

Various state legislators recently have made appearances touting their support for access to autism services. Unfortunately, hundreds of children in lower- income working families have seen their autism treatment services brought to a halt recently as a result of the elimination California's Healthy Families Program in our last state budget.

And autism is not the only cause for concern. Health plan medical directors in counties around the state have identified "care gap" problems for children suffering from eating disorders, developmental delays and those needing midlevel psychiatric services.

There is no argument that Healthy Families was an effective state-run program. It was designed to ensure that children from hard-working families that earned too much to qualify for Medi-Cal but not enough to afford private health insurance had timely access to quality, affordable health care.

The 875,000 Healthy Family participants were promised that the transition to Medi-Cal would be seamless. The state sent letters to Healthy Families enrollees telling them that there would be no changes in their health benefits. They were promised lower premiums and co-pays and additional health care coverage.

Now concerned parents trying to get care for their kids have been bounced from one bureaucracy to another, and their frustration and desperation only grew as they were told again and again that some other government agency was responsible for helping them.

Despite my strong objection and warnings from dozens of organizations working to keep kids healthy, such as the United Way of California, the Children's Defense Fund, PICO California and Children Now, the Healthy Families insurance program was eliminated.

Some of my colleagues and I pointed out that the Healthy Families Program reimbursed doctors, dentists and hospitals at higher levels than does Medi-Cal. This meant that more providers participated in Healthy Families, which in turn made it easier for children to find care. Adding more people to the already burdened Medi-Cal program, which frequently pays doctors less than the cost of providing care, was simply a bad idea.

I would like to point out that there are about 21,000 children enrolled in the Healthy Families Program in my district, and the transition to Medi-Cal may mean having to travel to another county to find certain kinds of providers, particularly for children with chronic diseases or mental health issues.

These obstacles to receiving care could have been avoided if the program had not been eliminated. Promises were made, and, at a minimum, they need to be honored. Even better would be to freeze the continuing shift of children from Healthy Families to Medi-Cal and to allow families who have been forced out of Healthy Families to return to that program if they wish.

The families affected by the state's elimination of the Healthy Families program have enough challenges, and unfortunately the state is now adding to their burden.

Anthony Cannella, R-Ceres, represents the 12th state Senate District.

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