Kids to lose their health care

CITY HALL — Thousands of low-income children across the region are expected to lose health insurance coverage this year as a result of steep state budget cuts.

The California Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board voted last week to begin terminating coverage to more than 60,000 low-income children enrolled in Healthy Families as of Oct. 1 in order to cope with a projected $112.6-million budget gap.

About 229,000 of the program’s nearly 1 million participants are Los Angeles County residents. Figures for Burbank were not immediately available, but local officials said it could be in the hundreds. The state Legislature cut funding for the program by $128.6 million last month, which was compounded by an additional $50-million line-item cut from Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

“It’s unfortunate,” said Robert Oakes, a spokesman for Democratic State Sen. Carol Liu.

“The legislature had to make some difficult decisions because of the state’s economic downturn.”

Liu thinks the governor “cut unnecessarily deep into programs that benefit our most neediest citizens,” and is hopeful the vetoed funding can be restored, Oaks added.

On Aug. 13, the First 5 California Commission, which oversees tobacco-tax funds that voters approved for early childhood education programs, pledged $81.4 million for Healthy Families. But officials warn that without additional funding sources, up to 60,000 children whose insurance is up for renewal in September will be dropped from the program starting Oct. 1, and as many as 670,000 children, could lose coverage by the end of the fiscal year.

“These kids will lose insurance just as they are going back to school and need physicals and immunizations,” Carol Meyer, chief network officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Health Services, said in a statement.

“Without access to the important preventive care that keeps them healthy, the real danger is that many of these kids, some with chronic conditions like asthma, will end up in our overcrowded emergency rooms.”

Thursday’s announcement is the latest in a string of bad news for children and other at-risk individuals who will be most affected by state Legislature’s efforts to balance a $26.3-billion shortfall, some health care providers argue.

“It’s very hard to watch these cuts come down because they hurt the people who need it the most,” said Camille Levee, executive director of nonprofit Glendale Healthy Kids, which is bracing for increased demand as a result of the state program cuts.

Glendale Healthy Kids, which provides medical care for low-income and under-insured Burbank children by matching them with local providers who volunteer their services, will attempt to expand its reach to fill some of the holes left by the cuts to Healthy Families, she said.

Usually, she refers families who seek care to the MediCal or Healthy Families Program, she said. Now, she’ll have to take Healthy Families off her list.

The organization’s board of directors will meet next week to look at priorities and programs that can be provided to meet the growing need, she said. They will also attempt to provide local children with access to mental health services, another victim of state budget cuts.

“In the last year we have seen an increase in the need for mental health therapy for kids,” she said.

“As mental health program funding is being cut at the state and county level, people are coming to us.”

The state’s Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board is scheduled to meet again this month to review the spending cuts.

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