CASH-ON-DEMAND EPIDURALS: State Says Hospitals Broke Rules
California health officials said Friday that in denying epidurals to Medi-Cal patients in labor unless they paid cash upfront, Northridge Hospital Medical Center "failed to comply with health care regulations." Carla Agar, spokesperson for the state Department of Health Services, said her agency could shut down Northridge's obstetrical unit and terminate its Medi-Cal contract if "the failures are found to be ongoing." In its investigation, the state agency found Northridge in violation of state law by failing to provide "medical care without regard to a patient's ability to pay" and "medication or treatment as ordered by a patient's own doctor." The hospital also broke the law by "failing to develop an anesthesia policy for a perinatal unit" and failing to "properly monitor patients' pain" (Bernstein, 6/20). State Health Director Kim Belshe said, "The critical nature of the problems DHS' Licensing and Certification unit uncovered warrants swift action on our part. We intend to earnestly continue our investigation into this complaint." She also requested that any Medi-Cal beneficiary who has been asked to pay cash for services to contact DHS so that the full scope of the problem may be determined (DHS release, 6/19).
The Law Says
Stan Rosenstein of the health services department said, "The Medi-Cal law does not allow for Medi-Cal providers to bill Medi-Cal beneficiaries for services that are provided by the program, so it's illegal activity, if indeed it occurred" ("Nightline," ABC, 6/18). The Los Angeles Times reports that the state health department plans to "turn over the names of two anesthesiologists at the facility to enforcement officials at the Medical Board of California" today. The hospital was notified of its deficiencies Thursday evening and has 10 days to respond. A spokesperson for the hospital said, "We have received the statement of deficiencies, and we will respond within a 10-day period with a plan of correction" (6/21).