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Hospital Funding Measure Won’t Qualify in Time for November 2014 Ballot

Private hospital groups sponsoring a ballot measure dealing with hospital fees yesterday said the proposition likely would not qualify in time for the November 2014 ballot.

Hospitals want to make permanent the Medi-Cal quality assurance fee deal they currently have with the state, but they’re going to have to wait for the November 2016 election to do it.

In a random sampling of signatures on a petition to qualify the ballot measure, too many duplicates were found,  according to the Secretary of State’s office, making a more complete — and time-consuming — assessment of the signatures necessary.

Putting the issue before voters in 2016 still works for the hospitals, according to Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president for external affairs at the California Hospital Association.

“The existing Medi-Cal provider fee runs through the end of 2016,” Emerson-Shea said. “By putting it on the ballot now, we were just getting ahead of that curve.”

Assuming the Secretary of State’s office eventually determines the measure has enough signatures to qualify for the 2016 ballot, voters will have an opportunity to make the quality assurance fee permanent just before it’s due to expire.

“So November 2016 is still plenty of time,” Emerson-Shea said. “We are not harmed in any way by that element of this.”

If the measure had made the 2014 ballot and failed, hospital groups would have had an option to re-introduce it in 2016. “But we plan to succeed with it the first time,” Emerson-Shea said.

Hospitals pony up about $3 billion for the Medi-Cal quality assurance fee and the state leverages that money to get matching federal dollars, which it then uses to reimburse hospitals for Medi-Cal services.

It’s been a win-win arrangement for the state and hospitals — but recently it’s been slightly more of a win for the state. In the 2013-14 budget year, the state diverted $620 million of that hospital fee money into the general fund — without using it to access matching federal funds.

“We just wanted to make the fee permanent, so the state gets a guaranteed amount and no more than that,” Emerson-Shea said. “The amount the state has taken has creeped up since 2009.”

The hospital fee ballot initiative requires 807,615 signatures to qualify. CHA officials said they submitted 1,223,837 signatures.