August 21, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy
For more than two hours on Wednesday, a panel of California legislators listened to health care providers, health advocates and frustrated recipients of an underfunded health insurance program to get a better idea of how to improve the state’s widely used Medicaid program, Medi-Cal.
And by the end of the hearing, the health community’s solution to the problem was clear: fully fund Medi-Cal.
A lack of funding has resulted in decreased access to health care for many Medi-Cal beneficiaries, which has often led to long wait times for appointments or having to travel long distances to receive treatment.
“Our state’s abysmally low provider reimbursement rates are having a direct impact on children and families throughout California,” Ruth Haskins, M.D., a Sacramento OB-GYN and member of the California Medical Association (CMA), told the legislators. “Hospitals, clinics, dentists, pharmacists, physicians and even health insurers all agree that the chronic underfunding of the Medi-Cal program remains one of the biggest challenges in health care. And sadly, the evidence of this underfunding is manifesting itself in several ways.”
The panel was part of a Governor-ordered special session on health care, which was called to find new solutions to improving the Medi-Cal program, among other things.
Currently, physicians are reimbursed roughly $16 for a typical office visit under Medi-Cal, which is far below the cost of providing care. California's low reimbursement rates rank the state as the third lowest in the country.
“Doctors’ offices simply can’t stay open without setting low limits on the number of Medi-Cal patients that we can serve,” Dr. Haskins said.
By fully funding Medi-Cal, the state would increase access to physicians and their practices, while decreasing the amount of crowding in more costly hospital emergency rooms. Fully funding the program would also save money by preventing diseases and conditions that are expensive to treat.
One way to provide this funding would be to raise the tobacco tax in the state, which would have multiple benefits. A tobacco tax increase would not only decrease tobacco use, which is the No. 1 cause of preventable death in the country, but generate revenue for Medi-Cal.
The tax would also help strengthen California’s legislative efforts to curb cancer, which are currently falling short, according to a new report from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network.
CMA is part of a broad coalition of health and labor organizations that is committed to raising the state’s tobacco tax.
While no action was taken by legislators at the informational hearing, Assemblyman Rob Bonta, chairman of the Assembly Public Health and Developmental Services Health Committee, noted that he will continue to solicit input from experts to find “the most creative, most effective” solutions.
“There’s much to be done, as we’ve discussed,” Bonta said, “and very little time to do it.”