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Schwarzenegger’s Cuts Would Deny Many Health Care

New America Media, News Report, Viji Sundaram Posted: Jun 27, 2008

Healthcare advocates are warning that the governor’s proposed budget cuts would severely affect immigrants and weaken the health care system as a whole, reports NAM health care editor Viji Sundaram.

SAN FRANCISCO – An estimated 608,424 Hispanics could either lose or be denied health coverage under Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposed budget cuts, threatening the state’s already endangered health care system and swelling the ranks of the uninsured.

“Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger talked about the uninsured as a moral crisis,” said Anthony Wright, executive director, of the consumer advocacy group, Health Access California (HAC), who co-authored a report on how the proposed budget cuts would impact California. “We absolutely agree with this. We think these cuts are immoral.”

Hispanics currently account for one-third of California’s population of approximately 35 million. They are expected to be the state’s majority by 2042.

Wright and two other speakers, Dr. Richard Frankenstein, president of the California Medical Association and Wade Rose, vice president of public policy and advocacy at the Catholic Health Care West, together shared their concerns over the proposed cuts at a media briefing teleconference June 25.

Until a few months ago, Schwarzenegger was promising healthcare reform that will ensure affordable and quality healthcare coverage for all Californians. But his new proposal is the “most profound rollback of healthcare coverage in the state,” Wright asserted.

Wright’s report shows that more than one million Californians stand to be adversely affected by the proposal, which is not just a one time cut, but “permanent policy changes” that will increase the uninsured from 6.5 million people to about 7.5 million, while reducing benefits or access for another 3.6 million low-income Californians dependent on public programs.

“Those Californians will have to pay more and get less,” Wright asserted.

The cuts will also impact about 18, 942 Native Americans, 70,764 Asians, 104,416 blacks, and 184,416 whites will be impacted, according to Hanh Quach, policy coordinator for Health Access California, who co-authored the report.

The proposed plan has yet to be approved by the state’s lawmakers, but if that happens, low-income working parents could drop off the Medi-Cal rolls, warned Wright.

Medi-Cal is California’s Medicaid program, a public health insurance program for low-income families, seniors and persons with disabilities. It is financed equally by the State and federal governments.

Currently a family earning less than 100 percent of the poverty level, that is, $17,600 a year for a family of three, could qualify for Medi-Cal, even if the primary wage earner works more than 100 hours a month, Wright said.

Under Schwarzenegger’s proposal, these same families would not qualify if they earned more than 61 percent of the federal poverty level of $11,968 annually, for a family of three. And parents would be discouraged from working more than 100 hours a week, thereby denying those attempting to transition from welfare to work.

Another drawback of the proposed plan is eligibility thresholds would be tightened for those enrolled in Medi-Cal and Healthy Families. They would have to file quarterly status reports to show that they still qualify for state assistance.

“The cumbersome eligibility requirements will disrupt access to health care,” warned Frankenstein. If that happens, hospital emergency rooms will get more crowded, and eventually, it will result in higher costs to every Californian.

And just as likely, “many are going to drop off the rolls (of Medi-Cal and Healthy Families),” he said. According to the report, some 22,000 undocumented immigrants stand to lose their access to emergency care as a result of monthly reporting requirements.

Just as alarming, the proposed cuts would make 60,000 children lose their Healthy Families coverage due to higher premiums. Currently, the program covers children between 100 and 250 percent of the poverty level with a sliding scale for premiums.

Under the governor’s proposal, families between 151 and 200 percent of the poverty level would see premiums increase by 77 percent to $16 per child. That premium would jump to $19 per child for families between 201 and 250 percent of the poverty level.

Several healthcare organizations, including those represented by the three panelists, AARP and insurers like Kaiser Permanente and Health Net have formed a coalition that is planning media events over the next two months throughout the state to try and persuade voters that the proposed cuts will only raise the cost of medical coverage for everyone and lead to more hospital closures.

All three panelists agreed there was a need for healthcare reform, even if it meant levying additional taxes on the state’s residents.

“There’s no free lunch in health care,” observed Rose, whose organization is the state’s largest private hospital chain.

Related Articles:

Diversity Emergency in California’s Health Care Work Force

Healthcare Crisis Looms in LA, Nationally

Poor to Take Brunt of California Budget Cuts

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