Healthcare cuts add hurdles for families with low incomes

Times Staff Writer

When Terry Badillo’s teenage daughter Denise became pregnant, she didn’t know what to do. Badillo’s husband had health insurance through his job, but it didn’t cover Denise, then 17.

The Monterey Park homemaker, who made call after fruitless call for help, remembers that uncertainty a couple of years ago as “a terrible time.”

Badillo eventually learned about Maternal and Child Health Access, a Los Angeles nonprofit agency. There, healthcare outreach workers helped her fill out the complicated forms to enroll her daughter in Medi-Cal. And when Denise started having unexplained seizures six months after giving birth, Badillo was more grateful than ever that her medical expenses were covered.


“We probably would have lost our house if we didn’t have the care that we had,” she said.

But the budget signed by the governor last month wipes out $10 million allotted to Los Angeles County this fiscal year for outreach efforts to help low-income families register their children for medical insurance.

The fate of another $10 million for the next fiscal year remains uncertain. The three-year program was initially projected to funnel about $70 million to 20 high-need counties, with about one-third going to Los Angeles.

These small-scale efforts were expected to help enroll 25,000 L.A. County children and teenagers in government healthcare programs each year. Of the 2 million uninsured people in the county, an estimated 200,000 are children, said Suzanne Bostwick, acting director of the Children’s Health Outreach Initiative, part of the county Department of Public Health.

More than 30 community agencies and government bodies, including the Los Angeles Unified School District, employ local health advocates throughout the county.

These workers, often bilingual or located in clients’ neighborhoods, travel door to door or work in storefront offices to help people navigate the healthcare bureaucracy. More than 200 of them, many of whom were Medi-Cal recipients themselves, are at risk of losing their jobs.

“Health reform is just more than” having an insurance card, said Lynn Kersey, executive director of Maternal and Child Health Access, who said local groups were blindsided by the governor’s veto. Without the state money, “people won’t get the help they need.”

Part of a $700-million budget reduction, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s veto leaves $147 million statewide to streamline enrollment and keep children in healthcare programs, said H.D. Palmer, spokesman for the state Department of Finance. More money for the Healthy Families program is expected to help enroll 64,000 additional children across the state, Palmer said.

“It was a tough budget year,” said Mike Bowman, spokesman for the state Department of Health Care Services. “The governor has to make some pretty tough decisions. . . . This has nothing to do with a lack of commitment. The state remains committed to enrolling all uninsured children,” Bowman said.

County health officials worked for nearly a year to establish the program and, between April and June, the effort signed up close to 6,000 children for health insurance, Bostwick said.

“All of a sudden, we had the rug pulled out from under us,” Bostwick added. Now the county owes local contractors $2.2 million in operating expenses the state won’t cover.

The governor’s veto “just undermines the infrastructure that would have supported his healthcare reform,” said Olga Duran, director of the Valley Community Clinic, which provides health outreach services.

Budget cuts also included programs to help seniors and the mentally ill. This week, Schwarzenegger announced plans for a special legislative session devoted to healthcare reform.

After getting the runaround from government agencies for a year, sexual assault counselor Aggy Barbero remembers how outreach workers helped her get insurance for her baby boy, Ari.

“It was like an angel coming to my rescue,” said Barbero, 36. Advocates enrolled Ari in Healthy Families, a program that aids working parents. “Knowing that somebody cares, they’re going to help you step by step. . . that’s more than enough,” Barbero said.