03/14/2009 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

California's Poor Children Can Only Dream of Octuplets' Care

Nadya Suleman is lucky. The health care and treatment of her octuplets will be paid for almost exclusively through state programs. That is through a mix of disability, welfare payments, and Medi-Cal. That's just the start. She's even put up a website soliciting private donations for the kid's care. If her luck holds she may get a fat payoff from a TV reality show or book deal. No such luck for California's nearly 1 million uninsured children. There's no multi-million dollar TV reality show or book deal bailout on tap to pay for their health care.

The overwhelming majority of them are low income, black and Hispanic, and they live in a single parent household. Their numbers could grow bigger, and their health needs greater.
In a comprehensive study in 2006 of children's health care needs, the Children's Defense Fund found massive disparities between the health care and treatment minority low income and white middle class children receive in single parent homes. Poor children in single parent homes are more likely than white children to have an unmet medical need, have a regular place to receive medical care, and have a serious disability that needs specialized treatment.
They must rely solely on understaffed, underserved, county hospitals, clinics, and health facilities for their pediatric, neonatal, and ongoing care. In addition, more than 150,000 children exclusively depend on California's Healthy Families Program to cover the costs of their health care. And that program is in trouble. Last year it came close to running out of money. It got an eleventh hour reprieve when First 5 California pumped in a cash infusion of nearly $17 million. First 5 California was created a decade ago with a portion of the tobacco tax money California gets to improve health care for poor working families. The stop gap money from California First 5 was earmarked to continued to enroll children under age 6 in the Healthy families Program.

The program is not out of the funding woods. The cash it pumped in was an emergency infusion. The Healthy Families Program as other state funded programs is held hostage to California's budget deadlock.

When California eventually enacts a budget it still may not help thousands of poor children. A GOP plan to cut state spending would take $6 billion from funds voters approved to boost healthcare for children and the mentally ill to pay other state bills. This includes cutting more than $2 billion from California First 5. Program officials have already said that if that happens they'd have to slash the number of families that they could enroll in the program.

The recent Congressional passage of the State Children's Heath Insurance Program will help thousands of working parents who can't afford private health insurance but are ineligible for Medicaid Children's Health Care to meet health care costs. With budget belt tightening, escalating health care costs, and shrinkage in the number of public health facilities, poor children will continue to be grave risk to fall victim to diminished funding and access to timely health care coverage.

Suleman is a single mother with no income. In theory anyway, she could easily be one of the thousands of poor working mothers who are totally dependent on state programs for her children's health care. And as with many of them, this would also put her at grave risk of falling victim to ongoing funding cuts and lack of access to health care facilities as other low income and working mothers. She racked up a tab that could run to near a million dollars in hospital bills for the children. Medi-Cal almost certainly will be required to pay the more than $9,000 per day to reimburse the hospital for their care. The total bill for their care could soar much higher. As long as the funding dollars are there, Suleman's eight will continue to get paid care by state health programs. Thousands of other poor kids may not be so lucky.

She says she's not a welfare case, and neither will her children be. But the hard reality is that without taxpayer dollars the top quality care they got would not have been there.

The massive press attention, public controversy, her compelling and even shocking story, insures that she and her children aren't likely to get shut out of access to ongoing health care for her children as many other poor children. Suleman's octuplets will have the type of health care and coverage that thousands of other poor children only dream of.

Earl Ofari Hutchinson is an author and political analyst. His new book is How Obama Won (Middle Passage Press, January 2009).