Protest Rises Over Medi-Cal Rates

The Capitol lawn is going to be a little livelier on Tuesday, as hundreds of protesters from across the state are planning to gather in Sacramento in an effort to boost Medi-Cal provider rates.
The state’s budget is due June 15, and a consortium of health advocates and providers want to use the next two weeks to drive home the point that low rates equal poor access.
The number of Californians on Medi-Cal has now grown to 12.3 million, about a third of the state’s population. That’s an increase of 3.7 million people since implementation of the Affordable Care Act started in January 2014. All of those people need care and, according to Molly Weedn, associate vice president of public affairs at the California Medical Association, the state’s providers have become more and more reluctant to take on Medi-Cal beneficiaries.
“From a provider perspective, we are among the last in the nation in provider rates, and we have 12 million people and counting as we expand [Medi-Cal coverage],” Weedn said. “We need to be able to have providers for those people.”
There were two bills pending in the Legislature to hike Medi-Cal rates to Medicare levels, but one has been shelved for the time being and the other has been amended to become a study bill. SB 243, by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina), was placed in the suspense file by the Senate Appropriations Committee last week, and AB 366, by Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland), has been revised to establish a monitoring system to determine if Californians are having trouble getting care in the Medi-Cal system.
The Senate Committee on Budget and Fiscal Analysis included a number of rate boosts in its May 26 Major Action Report, including rescission of the 2011 provider rate reduction and increasing the dental anesthesia rate.
Weedn said there was a marked increase in access to care during the two-year bump in primary care rates under the ACA. Reimbursement needs to rise to Medicare funding levels for all providers, she said.
“We’ve been talking about this for so long, what we’re worried might happen. But one of the big issues we’re seeing is, now it’s happening,” Weedn said. “We now have real-life stories of lack of access, and we haven’t really seen that as much till now.”