Ventura County Star Op-ed: Health of 1 million children is at risk
Sunday, August 16, 2009
By David M. Smith, president and CEO of United Way of Ventura County
Without health coverage, the 5-year-old with diabetes could go without insulin that could save his life. The 12-year-old suffering from asthma could go without an inhaler, forcing her to suffer during those terrifying moments when she can't breathe. The sick 10-year-old, who has no access to a doctor, could be sent to school with a 103-degree fever. If kids don't get ongoing checkups, chronic diseases and life-threatening conditions could go undiagnosed until it is too late.
Soon it will be happening right here in California. Major cuts to California's Healthy Families Program, in the amount of $194 million, will result in 1 million children losing access to healthcare over the next year, including more than 20,000 in Ventura County. This represents the single largest cut to children's health coverage in our nation's history. California children will lose access to basic healthcare services that help manage chronic illnesses, such as asthma and diabetes, and children with life-threatening illnesses like cancer could die.
You might be surprised at the way this impacts you. Rising numbers of uninsured children could spread illness when children return to schools and daycare centers next week without access to vaccines and treatment for illnesses. Worse yet, the federal Centers for Disease Control expects H1N1 to re-emerge this fall and disproportionately impact children. With the threat of a looming epidemic, reducing kids' access to care is irresponsible for the public health of all Californians.
Cuts to Healthy Families not only fail to protect California's children, but, ironically, they also fail to realize general fund savings. Providing children health coverage actually saves money by preventing more serious and costly health problems. When children lose insurance, they don't stop getting sick - they just end up seeking more costly care in emergency rooms where they are guaranteed to be seen.
Providing treatment in emergency rooms increases costs for everyone - businesses, taxpayers and families - as providers look to recoup costs by raising private insurance premiums and billing state taxpayers for the cost of care. It hardly makes economic sense, but it is exactly what cutting the Healthy Families program will do.
To make matters worse, by cutting Healthy Families, our governor and Legislature are effectively giving away approximately $360 million in federal funds to other states that we desperately need here in California. That is because for every $1 California spends on Healthy Families, the federal government invests $2. Those funds support doctors, hospitals and other health providers in every county and city in California. Our economy cannot afford to forfeit these federal funds.
Fortunately, a small degree of relief occurred late Thursday when the state's First 5 Commission voted to direct $81.4 million to support the Healthy Families program. It is expected those funds will enable some 200,000 eligible children to remain in the program, nonetheless leaving a huge gap in funding and coverage.
Yes, these are tough budget times. But other states have taken steps to protect and even expand health coverage to more children, while California moves in the exact opposite direction. Our kids deserve better.
- David M. Smith of Camarillo is president and chief executive officer of United Way of Ventura County.