Gov. Jerry Brown’s first whack at California’s $26.6 billion budget deficit is going to hit low-income Californians hard, especially those who rely on the state to get health care. Last week, Brown signed a bill reducing the state’s deficit by $11.2 billion through cuts in social programs such as Medi-Cal and Healthy Families:

Details of the Cuts
Of the spending reductions signed on Thursday, about $5.8 billion came from trimming social services. For example, the measures cut:

  • $1.7 billion from Medi-Cal, California’s Medicaid program;
  • $1 billion from CalWORKs, California’s welfare-to-work program (Contra Costa Times, 3/24).
  • $1 billion from First 5 by shifting reserve funds from the early childhood health and education program to Medi-Cal children’s services;
  • $862 million from mental health services (Sacramento Bee, 3/25).

Health Program Changes
One of the bills (AB 97) signed Thursday outlines changes to health programs. For example, the bill:

  • Eliminates Medi-Cal coverage for adult day health care services;
  • Ends Medi-Cal coverage for nonprescription cold and cough medicine;
  • Limits Medi-Cal beneficiaries to seven physician visits annually in most cases;
  • Imposes a 10% reduction in reimbursement rates for doctors and hospitals that serve Medi-Cal beneficiaries;
  • Raises premiums for Healthy Families, California’s Children’s Health Insurance Program; and
  • Requires Medi-Cal beneficiaries to pay $5 copayments for doctor visits, $50 copays for emergency department visits and $100 daily copays for hospital stays up to a maximum of $200 (Weintraub, Healthy Cal, 3/24).

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After weeks of fruitless haggling over how to slice the remaining $15.4 billion, Brown on Tuesday called off negotiations with Republicans, citing their refusal to allow voters to decide whether to extend income, vehicle and sales taxes. If Brown and the Democrats don’t come up with a way around the GOP roadblock, cuts to health care and other social programs are going to be even deeper. Brown made a promise during the gubernatorial campaign that he would seek the electorate’s opinion on whether to raise taxes, probably knowing full well that trying to get a 2/3 majority of the state legislature to approve a tax increase was virtually impossible. So right now, it doesn’t look good that lawmakers will be able to resolve the impasse.

So we’re left with millions of Californians who will suffer needlessly because they will have even less access to vital health services. No one would suffer if we had a statewide public insurance program, like SB 810, that spreads the burden and responsibility for taking care of the health of all Californians. Contrary to what many assert, our state is not broke. Just as it is the case across our nation, the wealth is concentrated in too few hands. We would not have a budget deficit if those with the ability to pay more in taxes would pay their fair share. We can well afford a public insurance program for all, and we must demand that our lawmakers make it happen.