MEDI-CAL: Use Surplus to Boost Payments for Doctors
The recent proposal by Gov. Gray Davis (D) to raise Medi-Cal payments for physicians by 16.7% is a "good" start to fixing the program's ills, but California "can do better," Assemblyman Martin Gallegos (D-Baldwin Park), chair of the Assembly Committee on Health, and Dr. Brian Johnston, chair of the Los Angeles County Medical Association's board of trustees, write in the Los Angeles Times today. The two argue that the state should use a hefty portion of its $13 billion surplus to shore up the insurance program for the poor so it returns to financial viability. Even with Davis' proposed increase in reimbursements, California's funding levels for Medi-Cal put it in the bottom fifth of all states' spending on federal-state Medicaid programs, Gallegos and Johnston note. With no spending increases in the past 15 years for "the vast majority of care given," Gallegos and Johnston argue that, when adjusted for inflation, payments to doctors have actually decreased by 54%. As many physicians find they cannot afford to pay the difference in care costs, they are refusing to accept new Medi-Cal patients or leaving the program or state altogether. "California's health care system cannot afford to lose any more of these doctors," the pair writes. According to them, lawmakers should raise reimbursement rates across-the-board by 25%, bringing California up to the national spending average of $3,789 per patient per year-- the amount demanded last month by health providers who marched on the state Capitol. "Failing to do so could cost the state much more," Gallegos and Johnston assert. They conclude: "We can no longer ignore our state's bottom-rung health care funding. Not when less than a third of our children receives essential preventive care. Not when Medi-cal patients often have to travel great distances to see a specialist who can afford to treat them" (6/5).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.