Good news, bad news for Calif. health care

The good news about health care in California is that last year, many of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s efforts to slash health coverage for the poor and disabled were defeated, while coming up this year are measures including the single-payer bill SB 840 to cover all Californians, which passed the Senate last year.

In its year-end assessment, the Health Access coalition noted that progress on health care issues was greatly slowed during the epic special election struggle that saw defeat of the Schwarzenegger-corporate ballot initiatives.

“Yet in what could have been an ugly year for health care, most bad proposals that would have harmed health care were stopped — not just bills, but also at the ballot box and in the budget,” the coalition said. “Given the challenges that were presented at the beginning of the year, this is cause for celebration for health care consumers.”

Health Access cited the Legislature’s rejection of several Medi-Cal redesign proposals that would have restricted access to care, imposed premiums on many patients, and forced many seniors and disabled people into managed care programs.

The year’s most important development for health care, Health Access said, was defeat of Proposition 76, which would have given Schwarzenegger and future governors unilateral power to cut the state budget, with “profound impacts on health care for generations.”

The coalition cited lack of progress on expanding coverage of the uninsured as the year’s biggest disappointment.

The bad news is that on New Year’s Day the state began a temporary 5 percent cut in Medi-Cal payments to doctors, dentists and others serving nearly 3.3 million poor and disabled patients who are cared for on a fee-for-service basis in the state’s Medicaid program.

“These cuts will devastate the weak, the young, the disabled, aged and the most vulnerable in California by making it more difficult for them to get medical care,” warned Dr. Jack Lewin, CEO of the California Medical Association, in a statement.

The reduction stems from a law sought and signed by then-Gov. Gray Davis in 2003. That measure, which affects about half the state’s Medi-Cal recipients, was blocked by an injunction that was overturned last August.

The State Department of Health Services said it was required to implement the law on Jan. 1. It claims the reduction is needed to help control Med-Cal’s cost, which it says is growing by $1 billion a year. But the cut will save only about 0.5 percent of this year’s projected Medi-Cal spending.