State Struggles To Expand Kids' Coverage Amid Budget Strain

TOPIC ALERT:

California's ongoing budget deadlock and previous funding reductions are preventing the state from fully participating in a federal campaign to enroll more uninsured children in government health insurance programs, American Medical News reports (Trapp, American Medical News, 9/20).

Background

A Health Affairs study published earlier this month found that nearly five million uninsured U.S. children qualified for the Children's Health Insurance Program or Medicaid in 2008 but were not enrolled in either program (California Healthline, 9/3).

In California, about 700,000 uninsured children qualified for Medi-Cal or Healthy Families in 2008, the study found. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program and Healthy Families is California's CHIP.

Following the release of the study, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius challenged the nation to enroll more uninsured eligible children in CHIP and Medicaid.

HHS is providing $120 million in grants to increase outreach for CHIP and Medicaid. The funding comes from the federal health reform law and the 2009 CHIP reauthorization. However, Sebelius noted that some states might lack the financial resources to significantly expand CHIP and Medicaid.

No Rebound for Healthy Families

California has been unable to expand Healthy Families after last year's multibillion dollar budget deficit prompted officials to freeze enrollment in the program between July 17, 2009, and Sept. 16, 2009.

Kelly Hardy -- health policy director for advocacy group Children Now -- said enrollment in Healthy Families has not bounced back following the freeze.

Medi-Cal Under Strain

The number of children enrolled in Medi-Cal has declined recently from a high of 3.7 million on May 1 to 3.4 million on Sept. 1, according to California's Medicaid agency.

In addition, California's current budget deadlock is preventing the state from issuing Medi-Cal payments to community health centers.

Thomas Bent, immediate past president of the California Academy of Family Physicians, said the state also has cut back on support staff to assist patients with questions about Medicaid (American Medical News, 9/20).

Lawmakers Raising Funds During Budget Impasse

In related news, state lawmakers have racked up more than $6.9 million in campaign funds since the fiscal year began without a budget in place on July 1, the Los Angeles Times reports.

For example, Assembly member Dave Jones (D- Sacramento) since July 1 has collected more than $570,000 in contributions to his campaign for the position of state insurance commissioner (Goldmacher, Los Angeles Times, 9/20).

Broadcast Coverage

On Friday, KQED's "California Report" reported on the state's ongoing fiscal crisis and lawmakers' attempts to revive budget negotiations (Myrow, "California Report," KQED, 9/20).


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