State budget to affect Medi-Cal?

SACRAMENTO Proposed changes to state-funded health care for children could result in thousands losing coverage.

It worries new dad, Carlos Ramirez, who recently brought 4-month-old Melody to the doctor for a check-up.

"Imagine if there's something wrong with my baby. We don't have insurance. We depend on Medi-Cal for her," said Medi-Cal recipient Carlos Ramirez.

But during tough budget times, state lawmakers have to make hard choices.

Monthly premiums will have to go up as much as $3 per month for the Healthy Families Program. That hike may cause an estimated 19,000 children to fall off the rolls because they can't afford it.

As for Medi-Cal kids, parents will have to renew coverage every six months instead of once a year. Two-hundred-fifty-thousand people are expected to quit over three years as a result, because the paperwork is too burdensome.

"There's a massive amount of paperwork to fill out. Not only that, you start receiving notices in the mail. It gets very confusing, and I have a college education," said Crystal Lee, a mother.

"It would save the state about $25 million, but compared to a quarter-million kids who would lose health insurance, it's not really a good trade-off," said Rebecca Stark, children's healthcare advocate.

State leaders, including those in the Schwarzenegger administration, say the alternatives are worse. Some of those alternatives may include tightening requirements so that fewer kids qualify for the programs.

"None of us is happy to be in the position of having to change premiums ... of having to look at eligibility," said Amy Palmer, California Health and Human Services Agency. "We're hopeful this isn't a permanent change."

An estimated 800,000 California kids already do without health coverage. Healthcare advocates say the problem will get worse if this proposal goes through.

Several studies show uninsured kids perform worse in school and miss more classes than those who have health coverage.

California father Carlos Ramirez hopes he can handle all the changes and keep his baby covered.

"I just care about my baby, just to make sure there's something for her, even knowing there's nothing for me," said Ramirez.

If Ramirez loses Medi-Cal, he'll have to joins the thousands of other families in emergency rooms every time his child is sick.


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