In the first hearing of a bill to raise Medi-Cal rates for providers on Tuesday, the Assembly Committee on Health passed it along with flying colors.
Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland) was barely able to get out a word about AB 366, his bill to raise Medi-Cal provider reimbursement rates, before he was interrupted by a motion to pass the bill.
Bonta presented the bill anyway: “We need to make sure [Medi-Cal beneficiaries] have access to care when they need it,” he said. He said raising rates for Medi-Cal providers was crucial because current rates are so low that access to care is being affected.
The bill would reverse the 10% provider rate cut ordered in 2011 by the Legislature and approved by the governor.
Medi-Cal reimbursement currently is too low to keep physicians and other health providers in business, said Luther Cobb, a physician in Humboldt County and president of the California Medical Association.
Cobb said he and his wife (both are Stanford-trained physicians) decided to move to Humboldt County to work in an underserved area.
“Abysmally low rates make it almost impossible to take care [of Medi-Cal patients],” Cobb said. He pointed out that California has the second-lowest rate in the nation of accepting new Medicaid patients.
“Despite assurances from the Department of Health Care Services (which oversees Medi-Cal), this has to be addressed,” Cobb said, “and it has to be addressed now.”
Reaction from committee members was strong.
“This is imperative for our communities,” said Assembly member Sebastian Ridley-Thomas (D-Los Angeles). He said there are a number of legislative efforts around health care being made this session. “And it is all wrapped up in this proposal,” he said.
“This is a stark and critical issue,” said Assembly member Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale). “My district is a rural district, and people are unable to get the care they need, the services just are not available.”
“It is even more of a critical issue for us in rural areas,” agreed Assembly member Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg). “The foundation for being successful is being healthy. Children can’t be successful in school if they’re not healthy. Adults can’t work if they’re not healthy. It’s the foundation.”
Two of the committee members asked to be added as co-authors.
Committee co-chair Assembly member Brian Maienschein (R-Rancho Bernardo) already was a bill co-author and he summed up the legislative lovefest:
“We all come from very diverse areas and backgrounds,” Maienschein said. “The one thing we have in common is the importance of this issue, and the need for this.”
The bill passed unanimously on a 16-0 vote.