Local Clinics, Civic Leaders Watching SCHIP Debate

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Elk Grove resident Ola Apuhannoud is afraid her six year old daughter has caught a virus and that her two younger girls may be next. 

"I think pink eye or something. I used some drops for her eye and she’s getting a fever." 

Apuhannoud and her three children are here at the Sacramento Community Health Center on 65th Street in South Sacramento. They’re waiting to be seen by Doctor Francisco Aguirre….a very busy man.   

"Between myself and another physicians assistant, we see about 40 patients a day." 

Aguirre, who also serves as the center’s director, says most of his patients are low-income, Spanish speaking and residents of South Sacramento….and most are covered by Medi-Cal. 

"But there are a number of patients that have Healthy Families that don’t qualify for the no-cost Medi-Cal." 

Healthy Families targets children whose families earn too much to qualify for Medi-Cal but not enough to buy health coverage. California gets more SCHIP funding than any other state….and in Sacramento County, more than 24,000 children are insured through the program. 

"…so the potential loss of SCHIP dollars would be devastating to say the least." 

…Sacramento County Supervisor Roger Dickinson: 

"…I’d estimate that we receive more than $2.5 million a year here in Sacramento County to help insure these low-income children." 

Right now, SCHIP or Healthy Families covers about 6.5 million children in California. The SCHIP expansion bill vetoed by President Bush would have added four million more kids. 

"I don’t think there’s any disagreement anywhere that S-CHIP is a very, very successful program in every sense." 

But there is disagreement. Republican Congressman Dan Lungren, who represents parts of Sacramento County, voted against SCHIP expansion. It would have added $35 billion to the program over five years nationwide.

Lungren says he supports renewing SCHIP but during a recent speech to his congressional colleagues, he said the expansion is too broad. 

"...and to have a program that is sold as “for the children,” that in some states has more adults on it than children, has gone beyond focusing on the poor children is a program that is going to bankrupt this country because you see that repeated again and again and again."

Lungren voted to continue funding SCHIP for fiscal year 2008 at fiscal year 2007 levels. But County Supervisor Dickinson says SCHIP funding needs to keep up with rising medical costs.

At the Sacramento Community Health Center in South Sacramento, Doctor Francisco Aguirre says he’s hopeful congress will approve more SCHIP funding. But if not? 

"…it’s too early to say but I think that the major affect will be to the community in general. I think that those people who are left out from being part of the Healthy Families program will bear the emergency room weight."

…and Aguirre says in the long-run, it’s cheaper to pay for periodic health examinations such as those covered under Healthy Families, than it is to pay for ER visits.