Facing a $45 billion budget deficit, California Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed cuts that target the state’s health budget, singling out programs that began during Covid. His proposed cuts could eliminate as much as $300 million in annual public health spending. California health officials and industry groups have voiced their concerns over the potential fallout this could cause to health programs and preparedness.

Much of this funding went to the hiring of approximately 900 public health workers during the Covid-19 pandemic. Epidemiologists, nurses, and other included workers were considered crucial in tracking and containing the pandemic. They were also invaluable in responding to other diseases, like the recent outbreak of dengue fever that struck Pasadena. Thanks to state funds, the outbreak was quickly identified and contained.

“The more time this virus is out there transferring between cows and birds, the more chance it has to evolve and spread human to human,” said Kat DeBurgh, the executive director of the Health Officers Association of California. “That dengue outbreak was stopped because we had the ability to hire, and that was a huge public health success.” Within only seven days of the outbreak, around 65% of carrier mosquitos in the affected neighborhood had been eliminated.

“This is a huge step backward,” says DeBurgh of Newsom’s proposed cuts. “We can’t go back to where we were before the pandemic. The future looks scary.”

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The new budget plan was first unveiled in May when Newsom presented plans for the 2024-25 fiscal year. He emphasized the need to make hard calls to keep the budget balanced. Since then, negotiations between the Governor’s office and the state’s legislative leaders have been tense. The state’s $288 billion budget must be settled by June 15, a deadline that looms with greater weight with each passing week.

Newsom’s proposal also included a $6.7 billion cut to the state’s Medi-Cal payments to health providers. This goes against a multi-billion dollar deal that was negotiated last year, which infused Medi-Cal–a public insurance program that benefits lower-income households in California–with increased reimbursement rates. A new tax was placed on healthcare providers to pay for the program, and these providers are reacting with alarm to the proposal. Medi-Cal serves as much as one-third of California’s population, and weakening the program could have a significant impact.

“We have a shortfall,” Newsom said, taking a blunt tone in response to pushback. “We have to be sober about the reality, what our priorities are.” He did admit that “this is a program that we wish we could continue to absorb and afford,” but has not relented on proposed cuts.

The California Medical Association and the California Hospital Association are among the industry groups that are providing pushback against the cuts. These groups have gathered signatures for a ballot measure that they hope will prevent any cuts to Medi-Cal as part of the state budget. This is one of many strategies being employed by health officials and industry groups who believe that Newsom’s proposed budget cuts could have serious consequences for California’s communities.