Possible cuts pose threat to MediCal patients | TheUnion.com

Possible cuts pose threat to MediCal patients

“I’m not a social program, I’m not a number, I’m a human being,” said Janine Ford from her wheelchair.

“What they’re predicting will end my life, so I’m begging for my life,” the San Juan Ridge resident said Wednesday at a Grass Valley conference about the possible effects of proposed cuts to the state’s medical budget.

The conference was attended by area agencies and local low-cost clinics whose leaders foresee emergency rooms filling and people going without services if Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 10 percent budget cuts slice a swath through MediCal and other state medical programs.

“MediCal will cover a lot fewer people,” said Dr. Joseph Iser, Nevada County’s public health director, because the budget would change the eligibility formula and possibly clinic’s patient loads.

“The good news is that the legislature will fight this,” Iser said. “At least there’s an effort to push back.”

“This is scary,” said Scott McFarland, director of the Miners Family Health Center clinic. “This reduction will effect 11,000 of our patients” out of 30,000, who would no longer qualify for state health aid under Medi-Cal.

The formula to receive MediCal would drop the income level for eligibility for a family or individual from $21,000 per year to $8,600 annually, McFarland said.

But faced with a state budget shortfall of $17 billion for the next fiscal year, Schwarzenegger must make difficult choices, a spokeswoman said.

“Health and Human Services is the second-largest chunk of the general services fund, which is why (the health cuts) seem the deepest,” said spokeswoman Lisa Page, in Sacramento.

“That’s why the governor is continuing to push for comprehensive health care reform and structural budget reform … (to) bring stability to Medical budgeting and ensure the state never has to make such drastic cuts again,” Page said.

Delays, dental cuts

It’s not just cuts to medical services that could affect local clinics.

Proposed timing delays in MediCal reimbursements to clinics for half of June and all of July and August would force McFarland to turn to local banks to bolster the clinic’s summer cash flow.

The governor’s proposal also would eliminate adult dental services from MediCal. “This would be devastating,” Iser said.

Children’s service are also under attack, and the cuts would eliminate preventative care and make seriously ill children wait longer for specialty care, Iser said.

Elderly residents who get MediCal and Medicare – “some of our sickest patients” – could be affected at the Sierra Family Medical Clinic on The Ridge, because their Medi-Cal rate would be altered, said founder Dr. Peter Van Houten.

“Access to emergency care (would) be impacted within months,” Van Houten said. “The impact will be felt by everybody,” even ones with good insurance, because they could be waiting in line in emergency rooms behind former clinic users who have no other alternative.

There were no representatives of the Chapa De Indian Health Program clinics in Grass Valley, but officials at the conference said that program’s almost 900 Medicare and MediCal patients could also be impacted. Chapa-De officials could not be reached for comment.

To contact Senior Staff Writer Dave Moller, e-mail dmoller@theunion.com or call 477-4237.

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