Budget cuts devastate health care providers


Sample budget cuts imposed by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger using the line-item veto:

$80 million: Child welfare programs

$61 million: County funding to administer Medi-Cal

$52 million: AIDS prevention and treatment

$50 million: Healthy Families, a low-cost health insurance program for poor children

San Diego County health care providers say they are outraged and devastated by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line-item veto of $394 million in state spending for health and welfare programs.

The cuts will affect programs including those for child abuse and neglect, AIDS prevention and treatment and poor children without health insurance.

“They’re eroding the safety net in San Diego County and leaving the most vulnerable populations without any health care,” said Roberta L. Feinberg, the head of San Diego Family Care, a nonprofit organization that runs three community clinics in Linda Vista and City Heights.

Local health officials say they’re waiting to hear how much the cuts will amount to. Many said they believe cuts are short-sighted.

The frustrating thing for people in public health is we’re doing great work to reduce the spread of HIV but without prevention, there could be an increase in the number of cases,” said Jennette Lawrence, a spokeswoman for Family Health Centers of San Diego.

Lawrence estimated that her organization, which serves about 2,000 people daily at 28 locations, stands to lose as much as $2.6 million as a result of the governor’s vetoes. In addition to AIDS programs, her organization will likely cut services for uninsured adults and low-income pregnant African-Americans.

The move is ill-timed, clinic officials say, because layoffs stemming from the recession have boosted the number of needy patients.

“Some clinics are seeing up to a 50 percent increase of uninsured patients walking through their doors,” said Feinberg, of the San Diego Family Care.

She noted the cuts will hurt patients and clinics. Many low-income children and adults who had previously had medical and dental care covered by the state will now have to pay fees based on family size and income. Those fees will be considerably less than the rates the state had paid, Feinberg said, so clinics will have to decrease expenses.

“We will cut back wherever we can so it doesn’t affect the quality of patient care,” she said.

The $80 million cut to child welfare programs across the state could result in service delays for child abuse and neglect programs, said Mike Van Mouwerik, the county’s assistant finance director for health and human services.

The county serves more than 50,000 in its child welfare programs, including abuse investigations, foster care and parenting classes.

County officials also expect to take a hit in their AIDS programs, which provide testing, prevention and education at three county-run clinics.

“It’s going to be a challenge,” Van Mouwerik said, “but countywide, we’re going to analyze and see what mitigations are possible.”

Statewide, the AIDS program cuts included $24 million in education and prevention funding, $8 million for HIV counseling and testing, $8 million in therapeutic monitoring and $7 million in early intervention.

Activists say the cut to therapeutic monitoring is especially detrimental, because patients won’t know the effectiveness of expensive cocktail treatments.

“It is very disappointing,” said Shannon Wagner, the executive director of Being Alive San Diego. “I think that support services for people living with HIV and AIDS will be dismantled because of the cost of care. I think the effects of not having education programs for people living with HIV and AIDS is also dire.”

State officials said Wednesday that the governor was forced to make the cuts because the budget approved by the Assembly wiped out necessary reserves.

“The governor referred to this budget as ‘good, bad and ugly.’ These unquestionably fall into the category of ugly reductions,” said H.D. Palmer, deputy director of the state Department of Finance. “He acted with reluctance, but out of necessity.”

Staff writer James P. Sweeney contributed to this report.


Union-Tribune Staff Writer

Eleanor Yang Su: (619) 542-4564;

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