Backed by a “cadre of heath care workers and local activists,” California Assembly members Bob Hertzberg (D) and Martin Gallegos (D) on this week called upon state and federal officials to expand the state’s CHIP, Healthy Families, to 600,000 uninsured working parents, the Los Angeles Times reports. Speaking in front of a North Hollywood community clinic, Hertzberg said, “Seven million Californians have no health insurance. That’s not a crisis. It’s an epidemic.” Gallegos called on the state government to provide the funding needed to extend Healthy Families to low-income parents, an expansion approved by the state Legislature two weeks ago, although a bill to fund the expansion failed to pass due to a computer system glitch. The federal government covers two-thirds of the program’s cost, while the state is responsible for the remaining $128 million. Lawmakers proposed the expansion because the state has failed to use all available federal funds for Healthy Families. Any unused funds will be returned to Washington. Gallegos said: “We need to seize the opportunity to provide health care to working parents who are struggling to make ends meet. The federal government is now willing to help. It would be a shame for California to turn that money away” (MacGregor, 9/13).
Census data reveal that the number of uninsured residents in California is the third-highest in the country, behind Arizona and Texas, and is growing by 23,000 each month. E. Richard Brown, director of the UCLA Center for Health Policy Research, said the problem stems from California’s high cost of living, the low rate of employee-based insurance programs and a “large population of illegal immigrants.” Jamie Court of the Foundation for Taxpayer and Consumer Rights said, “Part of the reason we’re the poster child for the need for [a] universal health program is that food, shelter and transportation [are] so expensive. Families just can’t afford health insurance here.” Brown has suggested that the state pay a share of low-income workers’ private insurance premiums, which would be based on a family’s income. A more controversial proposal calls for instituting a new tax on employers to create a universal health care system, an idea that would be popular with low-income workers who cannot afford private insurance but make too much to qualify for Medi-Cal (Breznican, AP/Ventura County-Star, 9/13).