Broad-based coalition works to stop Medi-Cal cuts as bill clears health committee

May 06, 2013

Marking the beginning of what was hailed as an “unprecedented coalition," the California Medical Association (CMA) and a group of health care stakeholders calling themselves “We Care for California” recently gathered outside the California Capitol in an attempt to halt the state’s plan to further cut Medi-Cal.

The coalition was unveiled on Wednesday, April 25, the same day that SB 640, a CMA-sponsored bill to block the 10 percent cuts to Medi-Cal, passed out of the Senate Committee on Health with an 8-0 vote. The bill, if approved, would repeal the 10 percent cut to Medi-Cal provider reimbursement that was approved by the Legislature as part of the 2011 budget process.

“We Care for California," consists of physicians and other health care professionals, labor representatives, insurance providers and California hospitals dedicated to “smart and sensible implementation of the Affordable Care Act,” said Paul Phinney, M.D., president of the California Medical Association (CMA).

While Phinney noted that the group’s mission statement applies broadly to all aspects of the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) implementation, Wednesday’s assembly focused on SB 640, legislation authored by state Senator Ricardo Lara (D-Los Angeles).

The cuts were challenged in court by CMA, resulting in a temporary injunction. Recently, however, an appeals court overturned the injunction and the state plans to begin implementing the cuts, both retroactively and moving forward.

Speaking at the Assembly, Sen. Lara noted that, unless SB 640 was approved and the cuts were stopped, California would soon have the largest Medicaid (Medi-Cal in California) patient population in the nation, while offering the lowest reimbursement rates.

The problem would only be amplified when as many as 2 million Californians are added to the Medi-Cal program under the ACA, beginning in 2014.

“California cannot continue to cut provider rates to the bone and, at the same time, expect providers to take more Medi-Cal patients than they do today,” he said.

Speakers from both SEIU-UHW and the California Hospital Association echoed such comments, nothing that further reductions to the Medi-Cal program have rippled effects beyond just patients and their physicians.

Several members of the state Assembly, including CMA member Richard Pan, M.D. (D-Sacramento), Holly Mitchell (D-Culver City), Brian Maienschein (R-San Diego) and Das Williams (D-Santa Barbara), joined Sen. Lara on stage to note that California was in a better economic condition than it was when the initial cuts were approved.

Recent budget assessments released by the Legislative Analyst’s Office have been positive, Mitchell said, and suggest that it is time to “turn back the clock” on the 2011 cuts, especially given the expansion of the Medi-Cal program under the ACA coming in roughly eight months.

“We’ve got to make sure that the core foundation, which we expect to build upon, is solid,” she said.

The bill now moves to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.


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