Prop 56 and Medi-Cal
This is a guest post by Alexa Solori of Torrance, CA and Heather Spohr of Thousand Oaks, CA
Looking at your daughter, tangled in tubes and surrounded by monitors, through the walls of a plastic incubator after being born prematurely is a terrifying experience. The excitement of pregnancy is washed away in a tidal wave of complex medical terms, beeping machines, and sleepless nights. As hope and fear clash against one another, a different feeling emerges: resolve to do whatever it takes to get your baby the care she needs.
Our families were relatively lucky: our health insurance provided us with access to excellent specialists and high quality, nearby facilities. Yet for the one-half of California children who are covered by our states’ insurance program for low income Californians known as Medi-Cal, finding a physician can mean months’ long waits or more than two hour drives for a simple office visit.
Over the last several years, California has added millions of people to the Medi-Cal program, and cut in half the number of people without health insurance. Today, 13.7 million low-income Californians – one-third of our state’s population – rely on Medi-Cal for health care coverage.
But as the number of Medi-Cal enrollees continues to grow, doctors are increasingly unable to accept Medi-Cal patients because reimbursement rates are among the lowest in the nation – lower than Alaska, Mississippi, Texas, and West Virginia. When doctors receive $50 for an appointment that costs $100, it’s easy to see how the state’s underfunding of Medi-Cal quickly adds up to big problems.
Insurance is meaningless if you can’t actually get the care you need. Medi-Cal patients are three times more likely to report difficulty in finding a doctor able to see them. For the millions of struggling Californians who rely on Medi-Cal for basic health care coverage, just scheduling a prompt appointment or accessing a specialist can be a daunting task.
Last fall, voters opted to do something about this. We passed a $2 per pack tax on tobacco products, with the promise that the money would be spent to support the health care system for the poor, as well as make it easier for people on Medi-Cal to find a doctor.
Now, just months after the passage of Proposition 56, politicians in Sacramento are trying to pull a bait and switch.
Gov. Jerry Brown is refusing to spend the money the way that voters were promised. Instead of investing the revenues towards increasing Medi-Cal patient access to care, the governor has proposed a money grab that puts health care of the most vulnerable Californians in jeopardy.
At a time when funding for health care is coming under attack in Washington – whether it be from efforts to roll back health care coverage or to defund Planned Parenthood community clinics – it’s an extra kick in the gut to face this kind of attack from Sacramento.
What’s more, in doing so California will be forfeiting another $1 billion in federal matching funds back to the Trump Administration.
Luckily, state legislators have a say. Budget negotiations are ongoing at our state’s Capitol which will ultimately decide the fate of the tobacco tax money – and the fate of health care for millions of low-income Californians.
It’s time for lawmakers to do the right thing: enforce the will of the people and spend the tobacco tax revenues the way voters were promised.
This is not a question of fiscal discipline, as Gov. Brown has suggested. It’s a matter of following the wishes of California voters and addressing the needs of current Medi-Cal enrollees who struggle with finding physicians who can treat them.
We actively supported the Prop 56 campaign taking on Big Tobacco because we wanted to help millions of low-income Californians gain access to basic medical care.
It’s time for lawmakers to do the right thing and fulfill the promise of Proposition 56.
There is no reason why a child born in California shouldn’t have access to the same care that our kids do. Their lives depend on it.