Report Finds Calif. Not Meeting Kids' Health Care Needs

TOPIC ALERT:

California is not adequately meeting the health care needs of children living in the state, according to a report by Children Now, the Contra Costa Times reports (Harrington, Contra Costa Times, 1/7).

Details of Report

The report examined indicators for children's health, education and welfare in California.

It ranked children's well-being by grades of A through F. For each of the 27 categories, the report offered a:

  • Grade;
  • Review of progress; and
  • Set of recommendations for action (Walters, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 1/7).

Findings

Overall, California scored:

  • 6 Bs;
  • 8 Cs; and
  • 13 Ds.

The state scored highest -- a B+ -- for children's health coverage because of the increased availability of public health insurance programs, according to the Times. However, the report notes that 78% of the state's 738,000 children who are eligible for such programs are not enrolled in coverage.

For other health indicators, the report gave the state grades of:

  • C- for developmental and behavioral health screenings;
  • C- for access to health care;
  • C- for health homes and care coordination;
  • C- for obesity;
  • D+ for oral health;
  • D+ for school-based health services;
  • D for home visits; and
  • D for mental health services (Contra Costa Times, 1/7).

Recommendations

The report recommends that California streamline eligibility and enrollment systems to make it easier for children in the state to obtain and maintain health coverage.

It also suggests that California:

  • "[D]ramatically expand funding" for early developmental and behavioral interventions;
  • Renew the federally funded California Home Visiting Program;
  • Increase Medi-Cal dentist reimbursement rates;
  • Establish a coordinated and comprehensive health home for every child;
  • Require health plans with which it contracts to make improvements in mental health service delivery and follow-up;
  • Create a public policy agenda to address the multitude of factors underlying childhood obesity and support a state tax on sweetened beverages; and
  • Ensure that critical behavioral and health screenings are available at schools (Children Now report, January 2014).

Reaction

Ted Lempert, president of Children Now and a former state Assembly member, said, "The declining status of kids in California is the biggest threat to the health and economy of our state" ("Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 1/7).

Jonathan Kaplan, a senior policy analyst for California Budget Project, said, "California is spending less dollars than other states per student ... [y]et it has more resources than the rest of the U.S., and its students present greater challenges than those in the rest of the U.S.," adding, "[W]e're not rising to the challenge that our population presents."

During an interview in 2013, California Superintendent Tom Torlakson said that making improvements in all of the categories in the report -- including by helping one million students gain coverage through Covered California -- are high priorities for the state in 2014 (Contra Costa Times, 1/7).

Barbara Aved
Among its other important recommendations, we applaud the focus on the overdue increase to Medi-Cal dentist reimbursement rates. Until this much-needed improvement occurs, CA children's utilization rates will continue to be below national benchmarks (which themselves surely need to increase to improve children's overall health and well being).

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