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California and the West

Davis Backs Extended Health Care Coverage

Insurance: Governor says he will seek federal funds to expand Healthy Families program from uninsured children to their parents.

September 07, 2000|DAN MORAIN and MIGUEL BUSTILLO | TIMES STAFF WRITERS

SACRAMENTO — Responding to pleas from lawmakers and health care advocates, Gov. Gray Davis said Wednesday that he intends to seek federal aid to expand a state program so it can cover up to 600,000 working adults who lack health insurance.

Davis also said he is considering paying for part of the expansion of the Healthy Families program, expected to cost the state an added $128 million annually, out of the state budget he plans to offer lawmakers in January.

About 7.5 million Californians have no health care insurance. This action would broaden the Healthy Families program, which now covers only uninsured children, to include their low-income parents.

The Legislature approved three measures last week seeking to expand the Healthy Families program. But a fourth bill by Sen. Martha Escutia (D-Whittier)--seeking to pay for the expansion with California's share of the national tobacco litigation settlement--failed amid the chaos of the legislative session's last night.

Though the bill's failure placed the expansion in doubt, Davis' words Wednesday during a brief news conference were the strongest indication yet that he supports the expansion.

As it is, the Healthy Families program, paid for by federal and state money, provides health coverage for about 300,000 children. Lawmakers lauded Davis on Wednesday for his support.

"That's great. It's a big step toward dealing with the huge uninsured problem in California," said Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park), who carried legislation that would authorize the expansion.

"It will be a great way to start out next year," said Sen. Debra Ortiz (D-Sacramento), who is the upper house's health committee chairwoman. "It's wonderful."

Davis said the final decision about how the state will come up with its share "will be determined by when we get the [federal approval]." Davis also wants assurances from Washington that the federal government will continue to pay its share.

"I made some commitment to the Legislature that I will seek the [federal approval]," Davis said. "I will do so at the earliest opportunity."

There is debate within the Davis administration over the program's cost. While the state can now afford to pay more during the current times of budget surpluses, some officials are concerned that the cost of what would be a new entitlement program could become a burden if the economy declines.

Physician groups, including the influential California Medical Assn., have been advocating expanding the program to include parents. Health insurance companies, which would help administer the expansion, also have supported it.

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