Assembly Committee Passes Bill to Establish Medical ‘Mercy Mission’ in Underserved Areas
The state Assembly Health Committee yesterday passed a bill (AB 548) that would require the state Department of Health Services to solicit specialists willing to participate in "mercy missions" to treat patients in medically underserved areas, the Los Angeles Times reports. Sponsored by Assembly members George Runner (R-Lancaster) and Virginia Strom-Martin (D-Duncan Mills), the measure also would require DHS to create a registry of participating physicians (Bailey, Los Angeles Times, 4/25). DHS would raise private funds to pay for the cost of providing caring for uninsured patients and to reimburse physicians for travel expenses. However, doctors would "donate their time" (Coleman, AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/25). The Times reports that pediatric specialists, particularly ear, nose and throat surgeons, are in short supply in many rural and inner-city areas. Physicians blame the shortage on low Medi-Cal reimbursements that "have not kept up" with the cost of treating low-income or chronically ill children. In addition, doctors say a "squeeze" on payments from health plans has forced many specialists out of the state (Los Angeles Times, 4/25). Frank Staggers, president of the California Medical Association, said the bill is only "one of the solutions" needed to improve access, adding that the CMA is advocating a 20% increase in Medi-Cal reimbursement rates (AP/Sacramento Bee, 4/25). CMA CEO Jack Lewin added, "If we don't make some changes, in two years we'll have a crisis akin to what we're experiencing with energy. We'll have rolling medical blackouts" (Los Angeles Times, 4/25).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.