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Physicians, students show support for patient access bills



April 23, 2014
Area(s) of Interest: Access to Care Advocacy 

Flanked on either side by nearly 100 physicians and medical students, California lawmakers gathered on the steps of the Capitol to discuss a package of bills intended to increase access to care in the Golden State.

The event, which was held in conjunction with the California Medical Association (CMA) annual Legislative Leadership Conference, highlighted four bills – Assembly Bills 1805, 1771, 1759 and 2458 – which all pursue different avenues for increasing access to care throughout the state.

AB 1805, authored by Assembly member Nancy Skinner, seeks to restore a 10 percent cut made to California’s Medicaid program (Medi-Cal) in 2011. During the event, Skinner noted that, despite being asked to care for the nearly 2 million new Medi-Cal patients being added due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA), California physicians are still be reimbursed at some of the lowest rates in the nation.

“It’s a bad prescription for health care if we’re paying out providers so little,” Skinner said.

Assembly member Richard Pan, M.D., chair of the Assembly Committee on Health and a practicing pediatrician, added that Medi-Cal payments often fall short of the cost of care and that increased reimbursement rates are necessary if the expanded Medi-Cal program is to be successful.

“Medi-Cal can’t just be a press release or an empty political promise,” Dr. Pan said.

Dr. Pan is also authoring AB 1759, which would extend through 2015 and indefinitely beyond the reimbursement increase for certain Medi-Cal primary care providers, currently mandated by the ACA, but set to expire on December 31, 2014.

Also discussed was AB 1771, authored by Assembly member V. Manuel Perez, which would require health insurance companies licensed in the State of California to pay contracted physicians for telephone and electronic patient management telehealth services. Perez noted that this change would be particularly valuable in areas of his rural Southern California district, where patient to physician ratios hover around 9,000 to one.

“This will ensure patients in remote regions and underserved areas of the state will have access to the care they need,” he said.

Finally, Assembly member Susan Bonilla discussed AB 2458, which would allocate $25 million in general fund dollars for one year, and another $2.8 million every year for three years from the California Health Data and Planning Fund, to establish 300 new residency spots in California. Currently, there are not enough residency slots to serve graduating medical students in California, Bonilla said, which often leads to California-educated physicians opening practices in other states.

“When we send our best and brightest to other states to complete their residency, sometimes they don’t come back,” she added.

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