Cannella: Healthy Families are a vital part of the budget

By Anthony CannellaJanuary 3, 2013 

Last year, in the annual state budget dance, the governor and Legislature approved the elimination of the Healthy Families program. At the time, legislators from both sides of the aisle decried the loss of a program that, for years, has been viewed as a success, providing nearly a million California children with affordable health care. Ending the program saved just $17 million from the $100 billion budget.

Even though I argued in support of the program and worked with a bipartisan group of legislators in the final days of session to save the program, efforts were unsuccessful.

Families enrolled in Healthy Families pay monthly premiums and copayments based on their income level and health care plan they choose. For many families that are not provided health care through their employer, Healthy Families is the only way they can afford insurance for their children.

Even though I am a state senator, first and foremost I am a father of four. The safety and well-being of my family is my top priority. I am grateful that my wife and I are able to provide an environment for our children that we believe is best for them. When one of my children needs medical care, I want to know that they will not have delayed or insufficient access to care.

When the program was eliminated, the goal was to transition those children into Medi-Cal, a program that is already overstressed. There are numerous stories of people who cannot find the doctors, specialists or treatments they require in a timely manner. The Medi-Cal reimbursement levels are so low that there are few providers that are willing to participate, and definitely too few for those that are already in the program.

The nonpartisan Legislative Analyst's Office cited a survey indicating that only 26 percent of pediatricians who now see Healthy Family program children but not Medi-Cal children would be willing to enroll in Medi-Cal to keep seeing those patients.

Of pediatricians that see kids in both programs, only 51 percent said they would continue treating the former Healthy Family program kids after they switch to Medi-Cal. In Medi-Cal, 42 percent of all adults and 25 percent of children had difficulty getting an appointment to see a specialist. The idea that we would add almost a million children to this program, especially after seeing these statistics, was unconscionable to me.

After the budget had passed, I was joined by Sens. Fran Pavley, Michael Rubio, Tony Strickland and Leland Yee in co-authoring SB 301, by Sen. Mark DeSaulnier, to restore Healthy Families. In the waning hours of session, the bill stalled in the Assembly.

Recently, Senate President pro tem Darrell Steinberg asked Gov. Jerry Brown to delay the transition. I am pleased Steinberg also recognizes that this transition will cause hardship to many children who rely on Healthy Families coverage. I still believe the elimination of the program is not acceptable.

When the bill to eliminate Healthy Families came to the Senate floor, I told my fellow senators about a close friend whose four children had been enrolled in the program. He was working at the time, but was considered working poor. When his 2-year-old started complaining about pain, they went to visit his pediatrician. Without a fever or other symptoms, the doctor felt the pain might go away on its own and sent him home.

When the pain got worse, they returned, thinking it might be kidney stones. A urinalysis turned up negative. They returned again for a blood test, which indicated that he might have cancer. He was quickly referred to a specialist and had a marrow biopsy the next day. The diagnosis was leukemia, and he subsequently underwent three years of treatment. Today, he is a healthy 11-year-

old and has been cancer-free for six years.

The Healthy Families program worked for this child and continues to work for hundreds of thousands of others.

I couldn't tell a single one of the over 21,000 kids enrolled in Healthy Families from my district that I did not do all I could to protect their medical care. This session, I am committed to do all I can to reverse the elimination of Healthy Families.

Cannella, R-Ceres, represents the 12th District, which includes all of Merced County and part of Stanislaus County.

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