The County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday to place a parcel tax measure on the November 2010 ballot to create a stable source of funding for the Santa Clara County Healthy Kids Program.  If passed by voters, the measure would place a $29 tax on each parcel of land for 10 years beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

The tax is expected to generate $13.5 – $14 million annually to sustain the program. Healthy Kids provides medical, dental and vision benefits for all children up to age 19 who are living in Santa Clara County, and whose families earn up to 300% ($66,150 for a family of four) of the Federal Poverty Level, and who are not otherwise eligible to obtain coverage.

The County of Santa Clara launched the nation’s first universal children’s health insurance program, known as Healthy Kids, through the Childrens’ Health Initiative in 2001.  At that time, one out of eight children in Santa Clara County did not have health coverage.  Since then, the initiative has assisted over 171,000 children in applying for Medi-Cal, Healthy Families and Healthy Kids — the three programs comprising the Children’s Health Initiative. Today, 97% of children in the county have medical, dental, and vision coverage.

“Santa Clara County was the first county in the nation to provide a universal health insurance program for low-to-moderate income children and now that program is on shaky ground,” said Supervisor George Shirakawa. “Without a long-term answer, Healthy Kids funding will continue to dwindle and children will be at risk.”

Over 37,000 individual children have received health care coverage through the Healthy Kids program alone since its inception.  But in recent years, funding sources have diminished.  At the end of 2010, several major donors will halt their financial support. Unless other funding is found, thousands of children could be disenrolled.

“The Healthy Kids program is at a crisis point,” said President Ken Yeager, County of Santa Clara Board of Supervisors.  “Without a long-term, sustainable source of funding, thousands of children are in jeopardy of losing their health care coverage.”

At the height of enrollment, there were over 13,000 children in Healthy Kids. Over the last two years as funding declined, enrollment has been limited, with children on a waiting list. Current enrollment is now approximately 8,500 children.

“While national health care reform will change access to care for many, the Healthy Kids Program will still play a vital role in providing health coverage to children who don’t qualify for other programs,” said Supervisor Liz Kniss, Chair of the Board’s Health and Hospital Committee.  “Healthy Kids is a critical component in protecting children’s health and preventing serious illnesses through regular medical checkups, immunizations, and early detection.”

Studies have found that children enrolled in Healthy Kids are more likely to get the care they need to ensure healthy development and that insured children perform better in school and are better prepared to succeed in life.  Absences due to illness are reduced.

“This program is critical,” said Supervisor Dave Cortese, Chair of the Board’s Children, Seniors and Families Committee.  “We see the consequences throughout our system when children fail due to poor school attendance or the lack of basic needs.  The costs to society are much greater. This parcel tax is an important investment for our future.”

The Board made the decision to place the measure on the ballot following a presentation of the results of a survey conducted on behalf of the Santa Clara Family Health Foundation.  In February, 600 likely November Voters were surveyed about their perceptions of the need for additional funding to support children’s health coverage.  The results showed that voters surveyed backed the measure by a vote of two-to-one and were likely to support a parcel tax in the range of $25 to $35 per year.  The survey was conducted by Fairbank, Maslin, Maulin, Metz & Associates.

“The County has the responsibility of providing health services to everyone regardless of their ability to pay,” said Supervisor Don Gage.  “Kids without access to basic health care end up in the emergency room, which costs a lot more than a doctor’s visit.  It’s not only the right thing to do, but finding a way to fund health insurance for these children also makes good economic sense.”

The ballot measure will be placed on the November 2010 Ballot.  To pass, it would require the approval of two-thirds of the voters.  If approved, the parcel tax would be effective January 1, 2011.  However, property owners would not see the tax on their property tax bills until the fall of 2011.  The tax would expire in 2021.