In light of AB99, the budget bill that shifts half of reserve funds from each First 5 commission to the State, First 5 LA stands to lose $424 million. This means new decisions for the Commission on which programs should be extended.
While the Healthy Kids Program was approved earlier as part of the First 5 Los Angeles Strategic Plan through 2015, the Commission's approval for continued funding was made after reexamination of the current budget restraints.
"The Commission's continued funding will ensure that children currently covered by the Healthy Kids insurance will maintain coverage," said First 5 LA Commissioner Jane Boeckmann, who introduced the motion. "At this critical transitional juncture when all First 5 LA-funded projects are under review and evaluation, we cannot send the message that dropping a health insurance program that has successfully filled the void for young children, the most vulnerable, is acceptable."
By law, First 5 LA funds may only be used for children 5 years and under and to date 21,252 youngsters in that age group have been enrolled in Healthy Kids. The program covers children who are not otherwise eligible for state-sponsored insurance, such as Healthy Families and Medi-Cal.
In 2003, First 5 LA committed $100 million over five years to establish the Healthy Kids Program in partnership with LA Care Health Plan and the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health. Since then, First 5 LA funding has continued annually.
L.A. Care, the largest public health plan in the country serves more than 220,000 children ages 0 to 5, and recent studies by the Urban Institute and the Center for Community Health Studies show that such coverage and access to care has resulted in statistically significant drops in avoidable hospitalizations and school absences.
"In the wake of significant cuts in state-funded health care programs and the potential for even more reductions, First 5 LA Commissioners have deep concerns for the need to provide quality health care for the county's young children," said Evelyn V. Martinez, chief executive officer of First 5 LA. "The Healthy Kids Program brings important health benefits to children across the county. As a result, they are less likely to end up in the emergency room with untreated illness or health threats due to chronic conditions, such as asthma."