Enrollment Freeze Looms For Kids' Health Insurance Program

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(Sacramento, CA)
Monday, June 29, 2009

The Healthy Families program covers nearly a million low-income kids in California. Pediatrician Dr. Richard Pan sees many children in this program at his UC Davis clinic.

“Knock…Hello, hi good seeing you, hello, how are you? OK so you’re both here for check ups?"
Pan is making sure everything’s OK with Solomon Garcia’s two boys, who are 12 and 11. Garcia says his children have been enrolled in Healthy Families for more than 10 years. He lost his job about a year ago and says this program is more important than ever. Garcia says he’s worried about the thousands of families who might not get coverage.

“A lot of people really need to have it now, you know this kind of support like Healthy Family, because otherwise it’s really hard without insurance.” 
And Dr. Pan says it is hard to keep tabs on kids when they don’t have health insurance.

“Unfortunately children themselves and their conditions don’t wait. So the children will get older they won’t get their health screenings, they won’t get their immunizations and they may get sicker and end up using the emergency room while waiting for health care coverage.” 
Although the expected enrollment freeze could cause these problems Healthy Families has to prepare for less funding. That’s according to Lesley Cummings, the executive director of the Healthy Families board.

She says lawmakers are hashing out the budget that could result in a $90 million cut to Healthy Families. But Cummings says by law the program can’t go in debt, and that leaves the board with few options.

“The board, knowing that even though the budget’s not done, if they don’t start July 1st to do a wait list, it would have to make much more severe actions later.”  
Cumming’s says the enrollment cap would start in the beginning of July. She says that would mean more than 350,000 kids wouldn’t get health insurance in the next year. And to make matters worse Cummings says demand is up for Healthy Families.

“What’s happening is really difficult and, and, not a place that anybody that cares about children’s health would ever want to go.” 
Cummings says the board could avoid the enrollment freeze if it can find money to offset the shortfall. In the past the First 5 Commission has given funding to Healthy Families but there’s no guarantee this time. Cummings also warns in the next few months, the board might have to push kids off the program because of the budget situation.