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Medical aid to children expected to take deep cuts

July 21, 2009 |  2:29 pm

Budget cuts are expected to be deep at the state agency that operates the Healthy Families program, said Ginny Puddefoot, spokeswoman for the Managed Risk Medical Insurance Board.

She said the state would cut $124 million from the agency's budget, on top of a $20-million shortfall it already has. Given that the federal government kicks in $2 for each dollar the state spends on the program, agency officials are looking at a $432-million hole in the coming fiscal year.

"Our budget last year was about $1.2 billion," she said. "So it [the new budget cut] has a huge impact on children."

At the end of June, when the insurance board was forecasting a $70-million cut from the state, along with the $20-million shortfall, it voted to freeze new enrollment. The freeze, which took effect July 17, will prevent more than 350,000 children from entering the program and stabilize enrollment at about 592,000 children by the end of June 2010, according to estimates. There are currently about 920,000 children enrolled.

But Puddefoot said the new budget deal will likely force them to take the additional step of actively taking children off the rolls when they come up for their annual re-enrollment, unless the agency can find additional funding. Those children will then be put on a waiting list, which has been frozen.

"We've done different scenarios based on assumptions, but our estimates at the end of June found that between 160,000 and 288,000 would need to be disenrolled throughout the year," she said

Officials are hopeful they can find some funding through the First 5 program, which has already indicated a willingness to help. She has also heard that some of the health plans her agency works with have been meeting to look for additional savings.

"We're obviously going to be doing a lot of calculations to determine what the impact will be," she said.

They are trying to keep families up to date with mailings and updates at their website.

Puddefoot said there also will be cuts affecting two other smaller programs the board oversees: the Major Medical Risk Insurance Program and Access for Infants and Mothers.

The former provides insurance to people who are "medically uninsurable" and have been turned down by private insurance companies because of pre-existing conditions. Enrollment will have to be capped at its current 7,100. There are probably 400,000 people in the state who need the program but the agency cannot accept any more clients, Puddefoot said. Officials estimate the budget will be cut by $6 million.

Access for Infants and Mothers provides medical care for pregnant mothers and babies 30 days after delivery for women whose income is too high to qualify for Medi-Cal but who cannot afford private insurance. Officials will likely have to stop enrollment Jan. 1 because of a probable multimillion-dollar cut to the program.

-- Jia-Rui Chong