Considering Kids' Health Insurance Enrollment Freeze

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(Sacramento, CA)
Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Steven Voon drove to Sacramento from Fresno to tell the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board, or MRMIB, about how much he depends on Healthy Families for his two daughters. He says his kids will still be covered but he’s concerned about all the other families that might not get in if enrollment is capped. He says they won’t be able to afford care.  

“I think the parents will have a hard time paying $30-$40 dollars to go see a doctor itself. That will be a big impact for a lot of families, especially in the Central Valley where there are a lot of migrant families that need help.”
Healthy Families faces a $17 million shortfall in part because of record demand for the program. Lesley Cummings is the executive director of MRMIB. She says, by law, Healthy Families cannot operate in the red. Instead of dropping kids she’s proposing they not let anymore in for at least the next six months.  But even then she says it’s unclear if they’ll get in.

“There is no guarantee, the design of this program is it must live within the funds that are provided for it and that is a decision that is made by the legislative budget committees and the governor about what this state can afford.”

MRMIB estimates if it approves the enrollment freeze between 100,000 to 160,000 children would be put on a waiting list in. Right now Healthy Families insures nearly a million kids.

Children’s Defense Fund advocate Cliff Sarkin says the timing is terrible. He says families are already struggling in this economy.

“It’s precisely at this time that we should be shoring up the programs, not cutting them for families. This is the safety net that is around for families in tough times. If California implements a waiting list, it will be the only state in the country to have a waiting list at this time.”
MRMIB will decide in mid-December whether to freeze enrollment. MRMIB executive director Lesley Cummings says unless lawmakers allocate more money for the program they have few other options. But, with the state facing an $11 billion shortfall…in her words that would take a miracle.