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Republicans aim to save children’s healthcare program

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California Republicans are working to save a state healthcare program for almost 900,000 poor children, and they may have found one place where they actually have some leverage over the budget.

The minority party has been sidelined during budget discussions because Democrats hold enough seats in the Legislature to spend money with a majority vote. But approving taxes and fees still requires a two-thirds vote, and Democrats can’t muster that without help from a few Republicans.

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That’s how Republicans hope they can halt Gov. Jerry Brown’s plan to shift poor children from the Healthy Families program, which would be eliminated, into Medi-Cal, which is less generous.

In a letter to Brown, GOP leaders said they won’t support extending a fee on managed healthcare plans unless he rescinds his proposal.

‘There is simply no need to eliminate this program,’ wrote Senate Republican Leader Bob Huff (R-Diamond Bar) and Assembly Republican Leader Connie Conway (R-Tulare).

Cutting the Healthy Families program and enrolling children in Medi-Cal is projected to save $13 million in the upcoming fiscal year and $73 million annually starting in fiscal 2014-2015. But allowing the fee to expire could cost the state about $183 million.

The budget plan, expected to be signed by the governor Wednesday, assumes the fee is approved in a vote later this year.

Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said advocates still hope to save the program, especially with Republicans’ latest warning.

“There’s no reason to believe they won’t make good on their threat,’ Wright said.

There are also concerns that Medi-Cal pays a lower reimbursement rate to doctors than the Healthy Families program.

‘It’s tough for a physician to take on dozens of new Medi-Cal patients and still be able to pay their office rent, staff and cover the cost of operating a business,’ said Molly Weedn, a spokeswoman for the California Medical Assn.

-- Chris Megerian in Sacramento
twitter.com/chrismegerian

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