Sen. Leland Yee: Health Care System in Crisis

It has become increasingly apparent that our health care system is in crisis. With more than six million Californians going without health insurance, it is clear that steps must be taken to expand our access to health care.

While the fight continues to establish single payer health care by moving SB 840 to the governor's desk, we must continue to push to bring more people, most of all our children, into existing programs. It was in this spirit that I introduced Senate Bill 1459. Senate Bill 1459 will create the California Health Care Program (Cal-Health), which would provide health care coverage to 370,000 Californians that are currently without health insurance. Included in this number are approximately 200,000 children.

Cal-Health will allow the state to draw additional federal funding on a 2-to-1 basis. In addition to the elimination of red tape and duplicative programs, this should save California anywhere from $41 million to $100 million a year.

Senate Bill 1459 works by presuming that children are eligible for either Medi-Cal or Healthy Families, which approximately two-thirds of them are, which will lower administrative overhead and result in more immediate care for children in need. In addition, parents of eligible children for all families within 250 percent of the federal poverty level will be covered, which increases the odds that their children will also be brought under the umbrella of medical coverage.

The bill also takes great steps forward in terms of outreach. Health facilities will be required to inform a child's parents about the Cal-Health program, and if time is of the essence, they can apply for the program after the necessary medical procedure is performed. No one should be denied medical care because they have not yet finished filling out paperwork.

In addition, preschools and elementary and secondary schools will be given information about the program to distribute to parents, expanding awareness of the program and bringing more people into the system.

Senate Bill 1459 has the support of many health care advocacy groups, not the least of which is the California Nurses Association (CAN).

"We are proud to support Sen. Yee's SB 1459 because it would result in reducing the number of Californians without a health plan," said Donna Gerber, president of CAN.

"The current administrative waste and cumbersome eligibility process is financially indefensible in the midst of the ongoing budget deficits. Senate Bill 1459 is the perfect proposal in this budget year for getting hundreds of thousands of children the health care they need and deserve now," she said.

The battle to provide adequate health care to the people of California continues. While a single-payer system is the end result we are looking for, Senate Bill 1459 is a vital step in the process to make sure all of our residents have tools to live long and healthy lives.

Leland Yee is a California senator.