On Thursday, health care advocates from the California Alliance for Patient Care delegation met with CMS Administrator Donald Berwick in Washington, D.C., and urged him to reject a plan put forward by state lawmakers to make cuts to Medi-Cal, The Hill's "Healthwatch" reports. Medi-Cal is California's Medicaid program.
Gov. Jerry Brown (D) is seeking federal approval to cut Medi-Cal by $1.4 billion (Pecquet, "Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/4).
In late June, Brown signed a state budget package that includes changes to health and human services programs. For example, the budget aims to reduce state spending by:
- $623 million by cutting health care providers' reimbursements for Medi-Cal by 10%;
- $511 million by requiring Medi-Cal beneficiaries to pay $5 copayments for physician visits and $50 copays for emergency department visits; and
- $41 million by imposing a soft cap of seven physician visits annually and placing a dollar limit on hearing aids for Medi-Cal beneficiaries.
California must receive approval from federal officials to go through with the Medi-Cal adjustments.
Advocates for health insurers, low-income patients and physicians argue that:
- The proposed Medi-Cal cuts will harm the most vulnerable California residents;
- Lawmakers used unlawful tactics to balance the state budget by borrowing money and pushing deficits into next year; and
- State officials cannot guarantee that access to care would remain adequate under the proposed cuts.
Advocates also say that physicians could stop accepting Medi-Cal beneficiaries because of the proposed lower reimbursements (California Healthline, 8/4).
California Medical Association CEO Dustin Corcoran told Berwick that the budget plan violates federal law mandating that Medicaid payment rates be "sufficient to enlist enough providers so that care and services are available under the plan at least to the extent that such care and services are available to the general population in the geographic area."
The advocates also showed Berwick research estimating the effects of the Medi-Cal adjustments on access to care and waiting times ("Healthwatch," The Hill, 8/4).
Ultimately, Corcoran said, Berwick did not indicate his next move, but he asked "a lot of good, probing questions."
Federal officials are expected to make a decision on the proposed changes to Medi-Cal by Sept. 30 (Doyle, "Capitol Alert," Sacramento Bee, 8/4).