California Budget Cuts Threaten|1,000 Rural Clinics for the Poor

SACRAMENTO (CN) – More than 1,000 rural health clinics and the poor and uninsured people they serve will be hurt by California’s budget cuts, the California Association of Rural Health Clinics claims in Federal Court. The group claims that Assembly Bill X3-5, enacted “to mitigate the fiscal emergency of the state,” violates federal Medicare and health-care laws.

     ABX 3-5, enacted in February 2009 and amended in June, eliminated “optional” Medi-Cal benefits, in violation of the federal Medicaid Act and the Rural Health Services Act, say the plaintiffs, the Association of Rural Health Clinics and the Avenal Community Health Center.
     Dental and chiropractic services, podiatry and optometry are all on the chopping block.
Gail Nickerson, director of clinic services for Adventist Health, said in an interview that the law concerns anyone receiving assistance through Medi-Cal who is 21 to 60 years old. Children will not be affected.
While some may not be turned down for emergency care, preventive care is definitely out, Nickerson said.
     “Most won’t be denied in an emergency. Their pain will be dealt with. But it means that people will no longer be able to make an appointment and go in for regular care. And some people will refrain from getting preventive care that they do need until they can’t stand it anymore.”
     Nickerson said the cuts will “help you get your tooth pulled out but won’t let you keep them.”
Citing figures provided by the Kaiser Family Health Foundation, Nickerson estimated 1.6 million to 2 million people who receive Medi-Cal assistance will no longer qualify for what the Legislature is calling “optional” services.
The plaintiffs say the state’s refusal to reimburse hospitals even for emergency surgery violates federal laws which require that states provide patients with mandatory services if they participate in the Medicaid program.
The plaintiffs ask the court to declare that the benefits being eliminated from Medi-Cal are mandatory, not “optional,” and to order the state to reimburse rural health clinics and federally qualified health centers for these services.
     Plaintiffs are represented by Kathryn Doi and Asha Jennings with Murphy Austin Adams & Schoenfeld.

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