Time Is Short for Healthy Families Bills

by David Gorn

TOPIC ALERT:

If the two legislative bills to revive Healthy Families get passed by tomorrow night's deadline, a lot of things are going to have to happen today.

The bills need to be heard in health committee, both committees would need to waive a re-hearing, the bills then must be brought to the floor and passed by both houses. And that's assuming the bills don't have to go through appropriations committee.

It all is expected to start today, if and when the Senate bill can be presented to the Assembly Committee on Health. The Assembly would need to waive the rules on publicly noticing meetings before the committee could hear it.

It's like a basketball game," said Hellan Roth Dowden, head of HR Dowden and Associates and a legislative analyst for Service Employees International Union Local 1000. "I've been involved in politics a long time and I've seen this kind of thing before," she said. "It's just like watching a basketball game. Everything happens in the last five minutes."

Legislators have been working on last-minute amendments to both bills, SB 301 by Senate member Mark DeSaulnier (D-Concord) and AB 826  by Assembly member Sandré Swanson (D-Alameda), Roth Dowden said.

The union, she said, is concerned about losing $184 million from the managed care organization tax that would be eliminated with the Healthy Families program. The governor has a plan to reinstate the MCO tax within AB 1469 (Budget Committee), but Republicans have said they would oppose that reinstatement unless Healthy Families remains intact, and it needs a two-thirds vote because it extends a tax. The two new bills would reinstate the MCO tax, but tie it to Healthy Families' continued operation.

"We're concerned that that's $184 million into the general fund that they're going to lose," Roth Dowden said. "That's the MCO tax, and [if it's lost] it has to come out of the reserves, and our reserves aren't flush right now. We just can't afford to leave $184 million sitting on the table."

As for the tight timeline to push the Healthy Families legislation through, Roth Dowden said the whole Healthy Families conversion of nearly 880,000 children to Medi-Cal managed care in one year is the process that has been rushed.

"Rather than jamming something through on the last day, it would be much better to have some reasoned discussions," she said. "If this [Healthy Families] transition doesn't go well, it's going to reflect on the whole ACA implementation."

So far, the California Medical Association has endorsed the two bills, but the coalition of children's groups has not yet signed onto the legislation. They're waiting to see if AB 1469 has enough supporting votes to pass, according to Roth Dowden who thinks it's pretty clear it won't pass.

"The worst thing that could happen is there's no MCO tax and we lose all that money," she said. "Our concern is the general fund. I think there are a lot of groups waking up now and thinking they might lose this."


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