More Than 1 Million Children Could Lose Health Benefits or Coverage

Governor Schwarzenegger’s proposal to eliminate the Healthy Families Program would increase the number of California children without health coverage by more than 1 million. This is the second year that the Governor has suggested such a drastic cut to children’s health coverage programs. Healthy Families provides low-cost health, vision, and dental coverage to children in families with modest incomes, below 250 percent of the federal poverty line or about $46,000 for a family of three. Were it not for Healthy Families, many of these children would be uninsured.

In analyses of the Governor’s proposals, we note that if Healthy Families is eliminated, California would lose $826.3 million in federal matching funds. The analyses include estimates by county and legislative district of how many children would lose coverage and the dollars lost to local communities as a result of the proposed reductions. The analysis also documents the local impact of other reductions proposed, such as the elimination of vision benefits, restricted eligibility, and increased premiums.

In Los Angeles County, approximately 266,000 children could lose coverage if Healthy Families is eliminated. Rural counties would also be hard hit. For instance, more than 14 percent of children in Shasta County were enrolled in Healthy Families in 2007, the most recent year for which data are available.

Since the recession began, enrollment in Healthy Families has climbed, ensuring that children can still see a doctor if they get sick, or obtain eyeglasses if they cannot see the blackboard. Research shows that after two years in the Healthy Families Program, children initially considered “at risk” saw sharp improvements in their ability to pay attention in class, as well as their ability to keep up with school activities. Reducing or eliminating programs such as Healthy Families at a time of growing need could further undermine California’s ability to climb out of recession.

— Hanh Kim Quach and Raul Macias

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