By Western Center Policy Advocate Jen Flory and State Senator Holly J. Mitchell
There are few more nerve-racking experiences than sitting in a dentist’s chair writhing from severe pain.
You trust the dentist to fix the problem, relinquishing yourself to his or her care, while under pain medication. Sitting in that dentist’s chair, the last thing on your mind would be high-interest credit cards.
But for thousands of Californians, the pain of the medical credit card debt they acquire in that moment extends far beyond the office visit.
Medical credit cards are usually offered for services not covered by insurance, like dental and chiropractic care. They are also offered to people without coverage, including immigrants. But even people with coverage can find themselves signed up for high interest credit cards. They might not even remember signing up for the credit.
If that doesn’t sound right, it’s because it’s not. That’s why our economic justice priorities this session includes Senate Bill 639, which would end situations in which patients are signed up for high-interest cards in high-stress medical situations.
Democratic lawmakers will push Gov. Gavin Newsom to do more to help the poor as they enter budget negotiations based on plans the Assembly and Senate budget subcommittees passed in recent days.
Taking advantage of a rosy budget outlook and hefty reserves, Senate lawmakers have advanced budget proposals that include expanding Medi-Cal to undocumented young adults and seniors and restoration of most Medi-Cal benefits that were cut during the recession, including audiology, speech therapy, podiatry and incontinent supplies.
…Newsom is proposing to require Californians to have health coverage indefinitely, but has offered only three years of financial assistance to cover premium costs — and his subsidies mostly target middle-income people. That has drawn criticism from groups representing low-income residents.
“The penalty can be seen as reverse Robin Hood,” said Linda Nguy, a lobbyist with the Western Center on Law & Poverty. “It taxes lower-income people to subsidize people with higher incomes.”
“I have to wear glasses all of the time. I’m looking at the TV and I can’t make out what’s going on without glasses,” said Posey, 79, who bought his current pair at Costco. “Even when I have them on I’m not seeing clearly anymore.”
Posey says he’s old so he’ll make do. But the retired UC Berkeley worker feels bad for younger people who need glasses to work, especially if they do construction or operate dangerous machinery.
The question in the Capitol now: Is it time to restore several health benefits the state took from Medi-Cal recipients a decade ago, including the clearer vision that eyeglasses provide?
In 2009, state lawmakers—confronting a recession and budget shortfalls—opted to save state money by eliminating several Medi-Cal benefits, mainly for adults, that the federal government didn’t specifically require. The list of lost services included dental, optical, podiatry, chiropractic, audiology, acupuncture, speech therapy—even incontinence washes and creams.
As California finances bounced back, the state restored dental benefits in 2013 and acupuncture in 2016.
This year advocates are pushing to restore the rest of the lost coverage, with a particular push for eyeglasses.
…“These are critical benefits that people are going without,” said Linda Nguy, policy advocate for the Western Center on Law and Poverty. “For nearly ten years people have done without, and that’s a long time.”
State Senator Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, Monday announced the “Child Support Reform Act,” which seeks to ensure that low-income families receive all the child support payments to which they are entitled.
The act, Senate Bill 337, would overturn a decades-old law under which child-support payments meant for families who receive CalWORKs benefits go to the state rather than to the families and children who need it most.
“The Child Support Reform Act will right a historic wrong,” Sen. Skinner said. “Last year, more than 1.2 million California children living in or near poverty did not receive the full child support payments made by their parents. California must stop taking the lion’s share of support payments that rightfully belong to families and kids.”
“Most people don’t realize that when a child support payment is made to a low-income child, all but $50 of it goes to the state,” said Jessica Bartholow of the Western Center on Law and Poverty, which is co-sponsoring SB 337. “This doesn’t support the child, and it doesn’t help our child poverty rate. What’s more, it discourages parents from making payments at all.”
California lawmakers are working to supplement the Affordable Care Act for seniors in the Golden State. A package of bills is currently being considered that COULD help low-income seniors and disabled adults qualify for Medi-Cal.
Listen here (Begins at 25:33)
Western Center has submitted comments to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) opposing a proposed rule to change work requirements for Able-Bodied Adults without Dependents (ABAWDs) in need of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. SNAP offers an essential support for preventing hunger among low-income individuals. Denying food assistance to people who are without work will not incentivize more work, as the Administration claims, but rather, will likely plunge a significant number of people further into hunger. No one is at their best when they are hungry.
Western Center advocates for the health and dignity of people in poverty, so we view the proposed ABAWD rule as a hardhearted and misguided manipulation of welfare reform. Allowing people to go hungry in one of the wealthiest countries in the world is both immoral and short-sighted.
Our full comments can be read here, and an excerpt is available below:
“The Western Center on Law and Poverty is deeply concerned by attempts to restrict food assistance to the individuals whom we serve in California. We strongly support the goal of helping SNAP participants obtain and keep quality jobs that enable them to achieve economic security. However, we believe the restrictions suggested in the proposed rule would not achieve that. Instead, they will result in large numbers of out-of-work Californians and workers struggling to work full time or to prove that they work full time losing access to SNAP nutrition assistance, becoming increasingly food insecure, and losing the vitality necessary to seek work or advance their careers.”
The weather didn’t stop thousands of Valley residents – from Bakersfield to Stockton – from traveling to Sacramento on March 6 to raise their voices at the State Capitol demanding change for a healthier San Joaquin Valley and all its residents.
Approximately 2,000 Valley residents, advocates, and local elected leaders gathered at the Capitol Mall for this year’s ‘Equity on the Mall’ to rally for a ‘Golden State for All.’
The annual event is conducted by the San Joaquin Valley Health Fund, a funding collaborative of 18 funders and 90 community organizations established by The Center at Sierra Health Foundation.
Residents represented nine counties in the San Joaquin Valley with the commun goal to bring much-needed attention to the health inequities faced by children and families living in the region.
…“A child can’t put their childhood on hold until an affordable housing unit is built or the market adjusts, and solutions that allow low‐income families to access existing housing are a critical component of ensuring children succeed,” said Alexander Harnden, Housing Policy Advocate with the Western Center on Law & Poverty.
Western Center and our partners are working to address California’s black maternal health crisis. Western Center’s Courtney McKinney and State Senator Holly Mitchell teamed up to explain how a new bill, SB 464, could help address the issue, in the Sacramento Bee. An excerpt is below, you can read the full piece here.
Black History Month has come and gone. It is a month that reminds us of the resilience, fortitude and strength black Americans have exhibited to stay alive and thrive in this country.
Black women in particular have borne the brunt of adverse experiences created by the nation’s racist foundations. While significant strides have been made, black women continue to suffer needlessly and disproportionately from the seeds of white supremacy that many of us continuously work to uproot.
The issue of black maternal mortality hit news cycles hard last year, prompted by tennis superstar Serena Williams’ revelation that her childbirth experience brought her near to death. Shortly after she gave birth, Williams knew – from decades of intimate knowledge about her body – that blood clots were forming. Yet she could barely get medical staff to pay attention. After demanding a CT scan and blood thinner, and after initially being ignored, she was eventually treated for life-threatening blood clots. This saved her life.
Another high profile black woman, TV Judge Glenda Hatchett, lost her daughter-in-law, Kira Johnson, hours after Kira gave birth to her second child at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles. Kira and her husband, Charles, waited seven hours before a doctor ordered an internal exam. It took even longer for Kira to be taken to surgery to stop her bleeding. That was time Kira didn’t have to spare.
Those high-profile stories elevated the issue of black maternal mortality. Soon, story after story reported what black women have been saying for years – that no matter the level of education, career, or financial success achieved, being a black woman in America is hazardous. Why? Because even in 2019, the pain, knowledge and experiences of black women are not taken seriously. This is deadly.