Budget changes may leave families uninsured


Proposed changes to state-funded health care for children could result in thousands losing coverage. It worries Carlos Ramirez, a new dad who brought in four-month-old Melody for a check-up.

"Imagine if there's something wrong with my baby. We don't have insurance. We depend on Medi-Cal for her," says Ramirez, a Medi-Cal Recipient.

However, during these tough budget times, state lawmakers are having to make hard choices. For the Healthy Families Program, monthly premiums will have to go up as much as $3 a month, causing an estimated 19,000 children to fall off the roles because they can't afford it.

For Medi-Cal kids, parents will have to renew coverage every six months instead of once a year. The result is expected to be as many as 250,000 quitting over three years because the paperwork is too burdensome.

"There's a massive amount of paperwork to fill out, not only that, but you start receiving notices in the mail. It gets very confusing and I have a college education," says Crystal Lee, a mother.

"It would save the state about $25 million, but compared to a quarter million kids who would lose health insurance, it's not really a good trade off," says Rebecca Stark, a children's healthcare advocate.

State leaders, including the Schwarzenegger Administration, say the alternatives are worse, actually tightening requirements so that fewer kids qualify for the programs.

"None of us are happy to be in the position of having to change premiums, of having to look at eligibility," says Amy Palmer, from California Health and Human Services Agency. "We're hopeful this isn't a permanent change."

800,000 California kids already do without health coverage. Healthcare advocates say the problem will get worse if this proposal goes through. Several studies show uninsured kids perform worse in school and miss a lot more classes than those who have health coverage.

Ramirez hopes he can handle all the changes and keep his baby covered.

"I just care about my baby, just to make sure there's something for her, even knowing there's nothing for me," says Ramirez.

If Ramirez loses Medi-Cal, he'll have to joins the thousands of other families in emergency rooms every time his child is sick.

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