News

Local kids may lose Healthy Families coverage

Olga Melo makes about $2,000 a month cleaning houses, just enough to pay for rent and food for her family.

Neither Melo nor her husband, who works in the fast food industry, have health insurance through their jobs. But Melo, a Mountain View resident, says she hasn't worried about medical, dental or vision care for her two children still living at home thanks to the Santa Clara Health Plan, an organization which aims to provide health care to those who can't otherwise afford it.

Melo's 13-year-old daughter, Diana Marin, is covered by one of these programs, called Healthy Families. The government-funded program provides health insurance for 32,120 children in Santa Clara County whose parents' incomes are too high for the family to qualify for MediCal, according to the Healthy Families California Web site. Marin's family falls into this category.

There are approximately 767 children insured through Healthy Families in Mountain View, according to the Web site. But this could change as a result of a budget deal passed last month by the state Legislature and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, cutting approximately $194 million from the statewide program.

Melo said the program has enabled her to purchase coverage for her daughter, who attends the Girls Middle School, thanks to small premiums for dental, doctor and emergency room visits. Otherwise, she said, the costs would have bankrupted her family.

"I think the whole Hispanic community, which uses this program, is worried," Melo said as her daughter translated. "They wouldn't know where to go. A lot of these Hispanic families can barely afford food."

The program will also be hurt by federal cuts, since every dollar the state provides is matched by $2 from the federal government. It costs Healthy Families approximately $1,000 a year to insure each child, administrators say.

"It's one of the most leveraged programs the feds have," said Kathleen King, executive director of the Santa Clara Health Plan. "We really take a hit when the state doesn't come up with funding."

The only action the state has taken so far is putting new families applying for the program on a waitlist. In its 11-year history, the agency has never before had a waitlist, according to California Healthy Families spokesperson Ginny Puddefoot.

The government hasn't given local agencies any directions or information about how these county programs will be cut, King said. Locally, the cuts could hurt 8,000 to 9,000 children, she added, who may lose insurance through Healthy Families.

"That is an awful amount of kids who would have their benefits reduced," marketing director Mary Ellen Sweeney said of the tens of thousands of Healthy Family participants.

For now, Santa Clara Health Plan's three other programs are safe from cuts, but the agency has stopped accepting applications for Healthy Families as the staff waits to hear more from Sacramento. Lily Boris, chief medical officer for Santa Clara Health Plan, said her agency is in a "wait and hold mode."

"For children to go without vision, dental and medical care is devastating," Boris said. "To take it away from a child -- they are the future of the economy in this county."

Many local Latino families are becoming nervous as they hear news about the cuts, Melo said. The program helps many families pay for the immunizations and check-ups their children need before they can begin school.

"Sometimes kids already have a hard time in school," Melo said. "If a kid isn't healthy, he can't really advance in school."

King added that it will be especially detrimental for children with chronic conditions like diabetes, who may end up in the emergency room for treatment if they don't have health insurance. This, she said, would increase health care costs for Californians.

"Children should be recession-proof," King said. "It shouldn't be, 'You get insurance in good times.' That's not any way to treat the youngest members of our community."

Comments

Posted by alex, a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 17, 2009 at 1:20 pm

The taxpayer ends up paying more if all go to the ER.
Where is the common sense to prevent ER visits TODAY that should have been regular check ups YESTERDAY?


Posted by Joe, a resident of Blossom Valley
on Aug 17, 2009 at 6:18 pm

Sounds to me the lady is an illegal alien, one who does not pay taxes and is in our country illegally.
She has broken our law, she should be deported.
Why the heck should we support illegal aliens when Americans need help?


Posted by Old Ben, a resident of Shoreline West
on Aug 17, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Support your own children. If you can't afford them, don't have them. Birth control methods are cheap and plentiful.


Posted by Margaret, a resident of Jackson Park
on Aug 17, 2009 at 8:55 pm

Wow. Joe has bigoted views. Nowhere in the article did it say that the lady is an illegal alien. I supposed that Joe is a full-blooded native american?

And Old Ben, health care costs have gone up in the last 13 years (13 is the age of her child) or haven't you heard? I guess that you think that poor people shouldn't be allowed to procreate?

What simple views of the world you have.

Margaret


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