Senate Health Bill Would Risk Health Coverage for Half of California Children

June 27, 2017

The closure of hospitals or a reduction in Medi-Cal coverage would likely mean that a child’s health in California “depends on their zipcode,” said Mayra Alvarez, president of the Children’s Partnership, an advocacy group. Photo: file/Thinkstock

By Hannah Guzik 

If the Senate bill to repeal the Affordable Care Act becomes law, more than 5 million California children would be at risk of losing health coverage and some of the state’s hospitals may not be able to keep their doors open, Sen. Dianne Feinstein said Tuesday.

“Our hospitals that I’ve spoken with, particularly rural hospitals, would be devastated,” she said during a media call on the bill.

“This, candidly, increases the likelihood that some would not survive.”

The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office reported Monday that the bill would result in 22 million Americans losing health coverage by 2026. In California, between 3 and 4 million residents would lose insurance during that time period—and 1.6 million would lose coverage next year, Feinstein said.

“California would see the nation’s biggest increase in the number of uninsured people next year,” she said.

About half of all children in California could stand to lose coverage, because they are covered by Medi-Cal, a low-income health program that is partially funded by the federal government.

The bill would cut Medicaid, the federal name for Medi-Cal, by $772 billion by 2026, according to the Budget Office. That equates to a loss of about $24 billion in California, Feinstein said.

The state would struggle to recover from a budget hit that large, forcing legislators to make tough decisions about who receives health coverage, said Mike Odeh, health policy director at Children Now, an advocacy organization.

“These cuts would be devastating,” he said. “It will be really hard for California to maintain everything we’re doing now.”

Under the Affordable Care Act, introduced during the Obama Administration, and recent state reforms, an additional 5 million Californians have been covered by health insurance, according to Sen. Kamala Harris, who also spoke at Tuesday’s press conference.

“We are very fortunate in California to be a role model and an example of when a state wants to make the Affordable Care Act work, it works in a phenomenal way,” she said.

Gov. Jerry Brown said at the press conference that, although the Senate bill would allow insurers to decline to cover some benefits, such as maternity care or birth control, he would push to keep any so-called “essential benefits.”

“Everything I want to do is increase the care and to the highest quality possible,” he said.

Medi-Cal covers about a third of all Californians—about 14 million people.

The low-income health program covers a large portion of children who visit hospitals in the state. A funding decrease could mean that those hospitals—particularly those that focus on children or are in rural areas—struggle to continue providing care, Feinstein said.

“If this bill passes, we will see the three big children’s hospitals in the state have great difficulty surviving without Medi-Cal, because virtually all of the children that go there are on Medi-Cal,” she said, speaking about Children’s Hospital Los Angeles, UCLA Mattel Children’s Hospital and Valley Children’s Hospital in the Central Valley.

The closure of hospitals or a reduction in Medi-Cal coverage would likely mean that a child’s health in California “depends on their zipcode,” said Mayra Alvarez, president of the Children’s Partnership, an advocacy group.

“In the most simple way, this is not what we are about as a nation that puts our kids first,” she said.

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