Health Agency Opposes Bill To Create Children's Medi-Cal Advisory Panel

  ·  David Gorn, California Healthline   ·   Link to Article

State health officials have logged official opposition to a bill designed to create an advisory committee on Medi-Cal children's issues.

In a letter last week to the bill's author, officials from the Department of Health Care Services said they were taking a stand against a legislative proposal to transform the Healthy Families Advisory Board into the Medi-Cal Children's Health Advisory Panel.

The state eliminated the Healthy Families program in 2012 and the transition of those 860,000 children in Medi-Cal managed care plans is now nearly complete.

"The reason we did the bill is that 50% of all children in California will be covered under Medi-Cal and children's health needs are different," said Assembly member Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician and chair of the Assembly Health committee who authored the bill.

AB 357 would turn the 15-member Healthy Families board into a 19-member Medi-Cal children's board that would be "charged with advising the state Department of Health Care Services on matters relevant to all children enrolled in Medi-Cal and their families."

DHCS officials said they didn't want that particular advice.

"While DHCS welcomes advice and dialogue with stakeholders and experts such as the [Healthy Families Advisory Board] members, adding an independent advisory board specific to children's health issues … is deemed unnecessary," the DHCS letter said.

"I think it is very, very necessary," Pan said. "Particular attention needs to be paid to children because children sometimes get overlooked," he said. "This is a way to make sure you have people who are knowledgeable providing meaningful input."

Norman Williams, deputy director of public affairs for DHCS, said it's not about refusing advice but rather that the advisory group would be redundant.

"DHCS welcomes advice and dialogue with stakeholders and experts," Williams said. "We believe existing stakeholder groups that focus on all aspects of Medi-Cal, including children’s health outcomes, would best serve the intent of AB 357. These groups can consider a more holistic approach, as opposed to an independent advisory board specific to children's health issues."

But Pan said you can't get much more holistic than Medi-Cal children's issues.

"Certainly having a board like this would be beneficial to ensure quality," Pan said. "Medi-Cal needs to have better stakeholder engagement. What I've heard from stakeholders, it's sometimes very difficult to get information from DHCS."

The Healthy Families board has proven to be effective and valuable, Pan said.

"Healthy Families is known for having better stakeholder involvement. We were trying to look at this as an opportunity to take that same knowledge to even more children."

Pan said he understands Medi-Cal is a big, complex program with limited staff -- but that's exactly why an advisory group of experts could be so valuable, he said.

"I get it, sometimes people don't like other people telling you how to do things," Pan said. "This is a group that gives advice on children, that has proven its worth and value previously. What does this say about what kind of oversight we're seeing over Medi-Cal?" 

Kelly Hardy senior director of health policy for Children Now, hopes state officials will change their position.

"We are hopeful that DHCS will take a second look at AB 357 and see that this is a common-sense measure to bolster an important, existing advisory panel so that the five million Californian kids enrolled in Medi-Cal have a stronger voice in the program," Kelly said.

"We were surprised by the opposition letter but will continue to work in good faith with the administration as we have done thus far," Kelly added.