Governor Sisyphus fails children’s health

of The 100% Campaign: Health Insurance for Every California Child

Remember Sisyphus, the man condemned to rolling a boulder to the mountaintop, only to see it roll back to the bottom? Facing a budget deficit of mythical proportions, Governor Gray Davis risks this fate when it comes to protecting children’s health.

Under the governor’s leadership, California has made gains in providing health insurance to uninsured children. Even in this budget year, the governor continues several smart investments to insure children, including enrollment into Medi-Cal and Healthy Families through food-stamp and school-lunch programs, and using the Child Health and Disability Program (CHDP) as a “gateway” to insurance.

But here’s where the boulder starts to roll backward. The accomplishments in children’s health will be undercut by several of the governor’s other budget proposals.

First, he proposes to eliminate the community-based enrollment-assistance system that is responsible for two-thirds of children’s Healthy Families/Medi-Cal applications. Neighborhood assistants receive modest enrollment fees and support families in renewing their insurance. Losing these assistants means few children will make it through a complex enrollment system. In addition, the potential success of the CHDP gateway will be compromised without local help to navigate the bureaucracy.

Second, the governor proposes cuts that will jeopardize low-income working parents’ health. He proposes erecting bureaucratic obstacles to keeping insurance for eligible parents by requiring coverage renewal every three months. In addition, the eligibility level for working parents is going to be lowered dramatically.

These changes will force at least 550,000 working parents off insurance, and this loss will affect children. Studies show that children are less likely to have insurance and visit doctors when their parents are uninsured. Parents whose own health is compromised have trouble keeping jobs and taking care of children. Any purposeful bureaucratic barriers certainly will ensnare children.

The governor and the Legislature must craft a budget that decisively yet sensitively addresses the deficit. But dismantling important investments in health insurance for working families is not fiscally wise. For every dollar California cuts in public insurance spending, we lose nearly two dollars in federal support.

Rather, the governor and Legislature must balance the budget equitably across all Californians by fairly increasing revenues, pursuing federal relief and protecting investments in children. Adding more uninsured families compromises California’s health.

California’s children should never be a weight too burdensome to carry. Working our way to the mountaintop—and staying there—will get much harder.