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Committee Votes To Repeal Medi-Cal Cut

Assembly member Luis Alejo (D-Watsonville) got a grand total of seven seconds to speak at Tuesday’s Assembly Committee on Health hearing before he was interrupted.

“AB 900 eliminates the 10% Medi-Cal reimbursement rate cuts for all Medi-Cal providers … ” Alejo started to say.

“Move the bill,” said committee member Roger Hernández (D-West Covina). And before Alejo could speak again: “Second!” said Assembly member V. Manuel Pérez (D-Coachella).

That set the tone at Tuesday’s hearing, which saw a unanimous, bipartisan approval of Alejo’s bill.

AB 900 would reverse the Medi-Cal provider rate cuts imposed in 2011. Cuts have not been implemented, pending a federal court decision in a lawsuit challenging them. Because of the delay in implementation, providers in California face the prospect of retroactively paying back two years’ worth of 10% reductions.

If the cuts are approved in federal court, the retroactive clawback would amount to 5% a year over four years, making the Medi-Cal provider rates dip by 15% for four years.

That’s just too much, said Carolyn Ginno, associate director for the Center for Government Relations at the California Medical Association.

“California’s physicians have hit a breaking point,” Ginno said. “These cuts are it.”

Republicans on the health committee also were in strong support of the bill.

“Medi-Cal providers means physicians, obviously,” said Assembly member Brian Maienschein (R-Rancho Bernardo), “but also dentists, pharmacists, nursing homes, ambulances.”

With provider reimbursement rates for California’s Medicaid program ranked near the bottom of the nation — even before the 10% rate cut entering the equation — it doesn’t make good policy sense to drive those rates even lower, Maienschein said. The cuts would mean fewer providers willing to see Medi-Cal patients at a time when Medi-Cal expansion and health care reform are about to hit, Maienschein said.

“Medi-Cal providers are hurting in our state and we’re facing a huge reduction in their numbers at a time when we need more,” Maienschein said.

Assembly member Dan Logue (R-Loma Rica) asked to be a co-author of the bill. “This is going to bring confidence to the rural areas,” Logue said.

Assembly member Holly Mitchell (D-Los Angeles) welcomed support from across the aisle.

“I’m thrilled to hear the bipartisan support to reconstitute the fiscal integrity of the Medi-Cal system,” Mitchell said.

A similar bill, SB 640 by Sen. Ricardo Lara (D-Long Beach), recently passed the Senate Committee on Health — also on a unanimous, bipartisan vote. Both bills head to appropriations committees in their respective houses.

After AB 900 passed committee on a 17-0 vote, bill author Alejo was sheepishly delighted.

“I don’t think that’s ever happened to me,” he said.