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The Breakdown:

The Healthy Families program, a safety net that's tearing.

By Jessica Lussenhop

Gov. Schwarzenegger warned us heads would roll if the May 19 budget package failed, and the Healthy Families program is looking like it may be one of the first. In California, children whose families make just too much money to qualify for MediCal--for example, a family of four squeaking by on $56,000 a year--rely on Healthy Families for comprehensive insurance. That means the kids all receive basic check-ups, eye care, dental care and even orthodontics until they're 19 years old. Families pay a monthly premium somewhere in the range of $9 to $45 per month, depending on income, and never more than $250 in their annual family co-pay, for services that sometimes run as cheaply as $5 or even free. Here in Santa Cruz County, 6,300 children are enrolled in Healthy Families, and according to program manager Maria Love at the county Health Services Agency, that number is ticking steadily upward. "Due to the economy the program is seeing a huge increase in new applicants," she says. "It's growing every month. It's 6,300 right now."

Now that things are getting lean and mean, the entirely state- and federally funded program may get the chop, saving the state about $1.4 billion for the next fiscal year but booting about 1 million kids from its roster. According to Love, most will not be caught in the safety net provided by other types of health insurance programs. "The news is very disturbing, just the number of children," she says. "There are so many children that are eligible for this program."

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