Budget Trailer Bills Might Rescue Healthy Families Program

by David Gorn

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When faced with running a large children's program on about $390 million less than you had before, how many beneficiaries will you be forced to drop?

That's the question facing the Healthy Families program, which is considering a substantial disenrollment of the 870,000 children currently in the program.

The answer, according to Senate member Mark Leno (D-San Francisco), lies in two bills -- ABX1 21 and SBX1 9, budget trailer bills left over from the previous session.

"Going back to May and June and even before that, going back to the governor's proposed budget," Leno said, "that budget not only proposed the extension of the gross premium tax, but it also raised copays for people in Healthy Families."

That package of give-and-take was only partially passed, he said.

"The Legislature did approve the rise in copays, but did not extend the gross premium tax."

It's that managed-care tax that was funding a large portion of the Healthy Families program. Leno said it's on the table again, and that the Legislature will take it up -- quickly, since the current session only lasts a month.

"We will be addressing this before the end of our session," Leno said.

"The question will be," he added, "will our Republican colleagues go along with it?"

The trailer bills need to pass by a two-thirds vote. According to Alicia Trost of Senate President pro Tem Darrell Steinberg's office (D-Sacramento), that will be an easier sell now than at last session's budget deadline, especially if the health plans being taxed agree with the levy.

"We are reaching out to the health plans, to let them know what's at stake here with Healthy Families," Trost said. "And we intend to pass the budget trailer bill."

On the Assembly side, Bob Blumenfield (D-Woodland Hills) said that pulling health care coverage from hundreds of thousands of poor children is something no legislator wants.

"This is a scary situation with a simple solution," Blumenfield said. "The problems facing Healthy Families can be solved by putting politics aside and doing what's best for California's kids. It's been a tough road so far, but I'm committed to building the will to back a solution."

Leno said hard financial times for the state means harder financial times for the state's poor.

"At this time of severe financial crisis on these poor families and poor children, the impact would be so significant and so severe, that I really hope we would pass this," Leno said. "These are children. These aren’t Republican children and Democrat children, they're children."

No timetable has been set for when the budget trailer bills will hit the legislative floor for a vote. The current session ends Friday, Sept. 9.


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