Health care cuts could take health care from a million teens, children

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Health care advocates lined up in Sacramento today to testify against the governor's plan to eliminate the Healthy Families program. Ending state-run medical insurance for low-income families would help plug a $24 billion deficit. KPCC's Julie Small reports that if the legislature goes along with the plan, almost a million teens and children would lose their safety net.

Julie Small: The children who benefit from Healthy Families come from households that earn just a dollar too much to qualify for Medi-Cal. Joshua Stark's family became eligible for the program after he lost his full-time job.

Joshua Stark: During these times, whenever folks are losing their jobs, this is the kind of last resort that helps give them the ability to go look for work and not have to stay home and take care of a sick child, not have to worry if they should be going to a doctor or not – myself included.

Small: Stark told a legislative budget committee he's filled out the paper work for Healthy Families. He hopes his 2-year-old daughter may have access to health insurance again soon.

That won't happen if the legislature adopts the governor's proposal to eliminate the program. The state's finance department estimates that move would save $54 million.

The governor's said that the state's running out of other cost-saving options &ndsah; and that cutting a state-run program would not violate any federal laws –or invite federal fines. But Beth Capell with the non-profit advocacy group Health Access testified that the cuts could really hurt.

Beth Capell: People who live uninsured live sicker, die younger, and are one hospital emergency room visit away from bankruptcy.

Small: Capell said that before California created the Healthy Families program, a child's illness was the most common cause of homelessness among families who spent next month's rent on medical care. She warned lawmakers that eliminating the program during a recession would only worsen California's economy.