Coalitions Form To Get Slice of Budget

Two coalitions of health care providers, advocates and medical groups announced their formation in the past week and said they would try to ramp up pressure for a couple of key budget issues as the state budget talks intensify.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has until Friday to release his May revision of the state budget. The Legislature will begin public hearings on the budget next week, beginning May 18.

On Monday, a coalition called “We Care for California” said it will include $10 million worth of television advertising in its eight-week-long campaign to get the state to raise Medi-Cal provider payments to Medicare levels.

On May 6, a different coalition of providers and advocates announced its formation: “Helping California Smile” is pushing for better rates for providers of dental care to low-income children.

The cash whirlpool that’s drawing in advocates and providers is the estimated $500 million in federal money that will be included in the May revise — dollars that were not part of the initial state budget proposal.

Children’s health care advocates are especially keen to earmark it all for children’s health issues, since it is coming to the state in CHIP funding — the Children’s Health Insurance Program — as part of the Medicare deal worked out in Congress in April.

The television advertising campaign from the “We Care for California” coalition will be in English and Spanish. In addition to TV, the blitz will include radio, direct mail, billboards and phone calls, advocates said.

“As Californians, we have a moral responsibility to ensure the most vulnerable among us have access to basic medical services,” said Noha Abeolata, a family practitioner in Oakland, in a written statement. “Fully funding Medi-Cal must be a priority in Sacramento. California families are depending on us.”

The dental coalition wants to establish provider rates closer to the national average, which are about three times higher than California’s current rates.

The State Auditor in December issued a highly critical report on the Denti-Cal program. Lawmakers have asked the Little Hoover Commission to look into the program, as well.

“Already [California is] one of the worst states in ensuring access to dental care to children in low-income families,” said Serena Clayton, executive director of the California School-Based Health Alliance, in a written statement.

That lack of access, in part, is because of low rates, Clayton said.

“There aren’t enough dentists who can afford to see these patients,” she said, “since the reimbursement rate for their dental services hasn’t been adjusted for inflation since 2001.”

Dental providers were among the many health care providers hit with a 10% cut to rates in 2011, a reduction made during the budget crisis that year. Now that the budget is on stronger footing, Clayton said, it’s time to revisit that reduction.

“It is the state’s responsibility to ensure an adequate network of Denti-Cal providers,” Clayton said. “We need to restore budget cuts and invest in dental services so our kids are healthier and stay in school.”

Two bills pending in the Legislature are designed to raise all Medi-Cal provider rates: SB 243 by Sen. Ed Hernandez (D-West Covina) and AB 366 by Assembly member Rob Bonta (D-Oakland).

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