One of Gov. Jerry Brown's budget-cutting moves this year was to end the Healthy Families insurance program for low-income children and cover them instead through Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid. Now, at the very end of the legislative session, a bipartisan group of lawmakers is pushing to restore the program and boost its funding. Although we're skeptical of 11th hour bills, we agree that Healthy Families should be reinstated.
Healthy Families is California's version of the State Children's Health Insurance Program, which Congress created in 1997 to provide coverage for low-income children whose parents weren't poor enough to qualify for Medicaid. While Medicaid typically extends only to families earning no more than the federal poverty line, Healthy Families' cutoff is two-and-a-half times that amount, or about $58,000 a year for a family of four. California has the most children in the program by far — more than 1.7 million as of 2010, almost twice as many as the state with the second highest number, Texas.
The Brown administration argues that moving Healthy Families kids into Medi-Cal will save the state up to $72 million a year, largely because the state pays doctors significantly less in Medi-Cal than in Healthy Families. Medi-Cal also provides better coverage for some kinds of treatment, such as mental health care, with lower premiums. But those advantages are illusory — the state's low rates have driven so many doctors and hospitals out of Medi-Cal that it's becoming increasingly difficult for patients to obtain treatment, particularly in rural areas.