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Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Vida En El Valle - Health services take a hit

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By Rebecca Plevin

 

FRESNO -- Assemblymember Holly Mitchell acknowledges the severity of the state deficit, and the need to make drastic cuts in order to balance the 2012-13 state budget.

But some of Gov. Jerry Brown's proposed cuts, released last Monday in his revised budget, hit hard upon low-income communities of color that are already struggling, Mitchell said in a phone interview last week.

 

One of those blows, she said, is to CalWORKS, the state's main welfare program. The revised budget would reduce funding for CalWORKS by about $879 million.

 

Latinos make up about 54.7 percent of CalWORKS caseloads, and Tulare, Fresno, and Merced counties are among the counties with the highest per capita use of the program, according to a 2011 Department of Social Services report.

 

"I believe my responsibility is to produce, and vote for, and pass on-time, a fiscally balanced budget that is based on core values," said Mitchell, a longtime advocate for working families, who chairs the Assembly's Budget Sub-committee on Health & Human Services.

 

"I also have a responsibility to Californians who rely on these critically important government services," she said. "I feel equally obligated to upholding both ends of that spectrum."

 

As state legislators and policy experts consider Brown's revised budget proposal, they are having to make tough decisions as to which cuts to public health and social services are necessary -- and which are too painful.

 

"We have repeatedly cut programs that help these same families," said Michael Herald, legislative advocate for the Western Center on Law & Poverty. "We are repeatedly going back to the same poor population and asking them to make concessions, and these are the folks that don't have any money."

 

"We cannot keep going back and expecting to get blood from this turnip."

 

In order to plug a $16 billion deficit, Brown has proposed $8 billion in additional cuts. He expects to raise an additional $6 billion in tax revenues, if voters approve a ballot measure in November.

 

The revised budget proposes cuts to public hospitals, district hospitals, private hospitals, and nursing homes. It shifts 1.4 million low-income seniors and people with disabilities, who get both Medicare and Medi-Cal, into managed care.

 

It asks Medi-Cal patients to make $15 co-payments for non-emergency visits to the emergency room, and $1-$3 co-payments on specific prescription drugs.

 

The new budget also includes cuts to Healthy Families, the state's low-cost health insurance program for children and teens. It would reduce Healthy Family managed care plans by 25.7 percent, and shift children from Healthy Families to Medi-Cal.

 

The cuts to Healthy Families are also a concern to Mitchell.

 

With the proposed cuts, she said, "there is really no way to guarantee those children will continue to have access to a health care professional. They say there are enough Medi-Cal providers, but that is not what we are hearing in hearings."

 

State Sen. Ed Hernández also emphasized the challenges of cutting vital services for the state's poorest and most need, in order to balance the budget. Hernández, an optometrist who chairs the Senate Committee on Health, is counting on the Affordable Care Act to reinvigorate the state's health care programs.

 

"I'm hoping the Supreme Court doesn't overturn federal health care reform," he said. In 2014, when the law is expected to take effect, "we are going to get additional revenue from the federal government to start helping these types of programs."

 

Assemblymember Connie Conway, of Tulare, said the proposed cuts are difficult, but necessary.

 

"There is no doubt that the economy is hurting in the Central Valley -- which is precisely why we need to grow jobs, not government," she said in a statement. "People want a hand up not a hand out, so we need to focus on job creation and a comprehensive water solution so that we can lift people out of poverty and lessen the demand for services."

 

Read more: http://www.vidaenelvalle.com/2012/05/22/1218977/health-services-take-a-hit.html