Deep Disappointment in Continued Cuts

The Budget Conference Committee met tonight and went through the health budget, and it’s now clear that the compromise on the 2014-15 state budget would continue many of the recent cuts made to Medi-Cal rates, public health programs, and the safety-net for the remaining uninsured.

In the main bright spot, the budget restores the Black Infant Health Program and funds HIV Prevention Programs, but the budget deal leaves in place health cuts made in the depths of the recession, including a 10% reduction to some of the lowest Medicaid provider reimbursement rates in the nation, making it harder for patients to access doctors and specialists they need. Health providers and patient rallied to cancel the recession-era cut, to take advantage of enhanced federal matching funds available, but to no avail.

In other lost opportunities, the budget doesn’t restore many public health programs that invest in prevention, children’s health, school health centers, and other areas. The budget also rejects foundation money offered to help enroll/renew people in Medi-Cal, denying California federal funds. The budget reallocates $725 million from county safety-net and public hospitals, limiting services to the remaining uninsured.

We at Health Access California are deeply disappointed that this budget doesn’t restore key recession-era cuts that will continue to harm our health system on which we all rely. The Governor rejected investments that could have gone a long way in prevention and public health, and in drawing down federal dollars into our health system. These continued cuts are the opposite of fiscal prudence. This budget turns away money from the foundations and the federal government that would have helped Medi-Cal patients have better access to care, and could help improve health in our communities.

On Medi-Cal: California has an obligation to ensure that the millions with Medi-Cal coverage have needed access to doctors and health providers–and not just wait until the inevitable problems arise. We needed to cancel the recession-era 10% cut to Medi-Cal reimbursement rates, which were already 49th in the nation before the cut. The lack of action to restore these cuts, after bipartisan, bicameral urgency, is stunning. We are also disappointed by the lack of restoration of key Medi-Cal benefits (podiatry, psychology, etc) cut in the depths of the recession.

It’s amazing the Administration in the budget deal turned away foundation dollars to help enroll and renew Californians in coverage, which in turn means we can’t get federal matching dollars as well. This action seems to be putting the brakes on the successful momentum Californian has had on ACA enrollment.

On Public Health: We are pleased that the Black Infant Health Program was restored, but many public health programs were rejected, which were important cost-effective investments in prevention. The budget reallocates of $725 million dollars from county safety-net providers and public hospitals, which limits our ability to cover and care for the remaining uninsured, and forced us to confront that issue in the near future.

We should remember that this balanced budget was created in part out of $15 billion in cuts to health and human services–cuts are continuing today and into the future. It is financially irresponsible not to revisit and restore more of the cuts made in the depth of the recession, including those that can bring in more federal matching funds to a health system and economy that needs it. The level of services for California should not be set at the level of resources available during the worse recession since the Great Depression; this austerity budget neglects needed investments and opportunities for the future.

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