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California’s Budget Woes Jeopardize Child Health Coverage

-Editorial

As California grapples with a budget deficit, the state risks undermining its investments in early childhood development and harming its most vulnerable children by not ensuring that they have health coverage when they need it most. 

The Legislature approved multi-year continuous Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) coverage for children ages 0-5 two budget cycles ago, but they have yet to greenlight the funding for it. In the meantime, nearly 284,000 children in California have been disenrolled during the Medi-Cal eligibility renewal process required by the federal government for Medicaid beneficiaries, many because of administrative snafus and not because the children no longer qualify.

In this briefing by Ethnic Media Services, it was spoken about the importance of ensuring children ages 0-5 get and can keep their health coverage, how gaps in coverage and issues with Medicaid renewals affect families, and the potential impact of both nationwide.

California Assemblymember Tasha Boerner, a prominent advocate for family welfare, extended gratitude for the opportunity to speak and emphasized the gravity of California’s current budget crisis.

“California is facing a daunting multi-billion-dollar budget crisis,” remarked Boerner, highlighting the immense responsibility of navigating these turbulent fiscal waters. As the state grapples with tough decisions, Boerner underscored the perilous implications for vital programs, particularly those serving families and children, which are at risk of severe cuts.

“With 14 million Californians relying on medical coverage, including 1.3 million children, the stakes couldn’t be higher,” Boerner asserted. However, alarming disenrollment rates due to bureaucratic errors are exacerbating the crisis. Despite eligibility, hundreds of thousands are unjustly losing access to essential healthcare services, a situation Boerner decried as “unacceptable” and “heartbreaking.”

To address this pressing issue, Boerner introduced Bill AB 2956, aimed at extending enrollment deadlines and ensuring uninterrupted coverage, particularly for vulnerable populations.”It’s imperative to safeguard access to healthcare, especially for children,” Boerner stressed, advocating for sustained funding and streamlined processes.

Boerner rallied support from organizations like the Western Center of Law and Poverty, the Children’s Partnership, and the Latino Coalition for a Healthy California, emphasizing the collective effort to combat administrative hurdles and protect community well-being. She reaffirmed the commitment to advocating for California’s families and children, urging swift action to prevent lapses in healthcare coverage and ensure a healthier, more secure future for all.

The Children’s Partnership, an advocacy organization dedicated to advancing child health equity in California, emphasized the critical need for continuous health insurance coverage for children. The organization stressed that policies impacting children’s well-being, particularly health insurance coverage disruptions or “churning,” are detrimental to their health care continuity.

“Every child has a right to a healthy life, a strong stable family, and a safe welcoming community,” said Mayra Alvarez, President of The Children’s Partnership. The importance of consistent access to healthcare was underscored, especially for young children requiring frequent well-child visits, developmental screenings, and immunizations during crucial early years of brain development. Since the pandemic, families enrolled in Medi-Cal were guaranteed continuous coverage protections, but with the end of the public health emergency, these protections ceased, leading to over a million Californians, including 284,000 children, losing medical coverage. 

Disproportionately, children of color are affected, with more than half of California’s 9 million children relying on Medi-Cal, and three-quarters of them being children of color. Administrative hurdles often contribute to coverage loss, including procedural issues and language barriers. The impact of lost coverage extends beyond numbers, as highlighted in focus groups where parents shared their struggles accessing care for their children. Stories of confusion and desperation were common, illustrating the dire consequences of gaps in coverage. Continuous coverage protections have proven effective, evidenced by a significant drop in churn rates during the pandemic. Despite this success, funding for multi-year continuous protection in Medi-Cal, slated for implementation in January 2025, remains pending approval from the Newsom administration and the state legislature.

The Children’s Partnership urges swift action to greenlight and fund the implementation of continuous coverage protections, emphasizing the necessity of prioritizing child health equity in California’s budget decisions. They stress that without secure coverage, promises to support early childhood development and mental health remain unfulfilled.

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