The Senate Budget Committee heard testimony on $1.6 billion in cuts to California’s health care system as part of the legislature’s efforts to overcome the state’s $14.5 billion deficit. Only days earlier, Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Assembly Speaker Fabian Nunez committed to pursuing comprehensive health care reform. Several legislators have also pledged to continue pushing for such reforms. How lawmakers treat health care spending in the budget process will be a strong indication of whether that commitment is for real.
The Senate Budget Committee hearing showed how desperate the state’s financial situation has become. Some of the cuts being considered are counterproductive (cutting back on early medical intervention is no way to reduce overall costs). Some of the cuts were so small as to be rounding errors for the state, but devastating to the recipients of those services. On February 4th the folks at Health Access posted a helpful summary of the Committee hearing on their blog that is well worth reading.
The Administration and the legislature face an extremely difficult task. Finding $14.5 billion in the best of times would not be easy. Now, during the state’s economic troubles and with both chambers facing substantial leadership changes, it will be even more challenging. The solution may require raising taxes, at least temporarily, or at least eliminating some current deductions that don’t make sense. At the very least, Sacramento will need to articulate priorities and then stick to them. That’s a leadership skill state government displays all too rarely.
But the fact is, if they really want to expand health care to more Californians, they’ve got to prove they can deliver health care to those they’ve already promised it to. I don’t envy them the task, but that’s the job they took on when they ran for office in the first place. Now it’s time to deliver.