Majority Leader and speaker-elect Karen Bass of the California State Assembly was the keynote speaker at the a luncheon hosted by Californians for Patient Care Friday at the grassroots organization Community Coalition.
Bass said that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger is proposing massive cuts that will provide millions less in state and federal-matching funds to doctors, hospitals, outpatient treatment centers, as well as those who depend on Medi-Cal for their healthcare needs.
Nearly seven million of California's most vulnerable populations - including children, senior citizens, and the disabled - will be impacted by these drastic cuts which will be unveiled on May 15. Nearly $1.2 billion is being proposed to be cut from Medi-Cal.
"If the cuts go through, they will severely affect medical providers," observed Bass, who pointed out that medical providers needed a rate increase instead of cuts. "Every day, Gov. Schwarzenegger is coming up with a new deficit. I'm concerned that the cuts will be made on the backs of the most vulnerable Californians. We have to ban together and say, 'You can't balance the budget on the backs of the most vulnerable.'"
Bass paused, then said that she was disappointed that previous legislation for healthcare failed to pass the legislature. "It is ironic that we are talking about all of this when last year we were talking about healthcare reform and universal healthcare," she observed.
Bass urged attendees to form a coalition to voice their concerns regarding the budget cuts. "When you do it as a group, that's how you have power," she said.
"I believe the first step in finding solutions to our State's current fiscal crisis is to increase awareness of it and its impact among Californians," said Bass. "The proposed budget will impact each of us, especially the uninsured, underinsured, and disabled. The only way we can solve this is when we work together for a healthy California."
Postcards urging members of the state legislature not to cut their budgets for healthcare were distributed among attendees in an effort to ward off the health cuts before May 15.
Californians for Patient Care executive director Maria Robles said she was also concerned with the cuts which would impact millions. "We had a $16 billion deficit and Gov. Schwarzenegger cut 10 percent across the board. It will be a tremendous cut for healthcare because it is primarily concerned with Medi-Cal," she said. "Medi-Cal has the lowest reimbursement in the county and poor people on Medi-Cal will lose benefits and services in California. What they are trying to do is to determine where to cut versus where to gain revenue."
Robles said that Californians for Patient Care, which works to ensure the voices of patients are heard in Sacramento, is in the forefront of a patients-first campaign that asks members of the legislature not to cut from their healthcare budgets when they determine the budget on May 15. Robles urged attendees to fill out a petition opposing cuts to healthcare that is available on the Californians for Patient Care website.
Californians for Patient Care is a non-profit, patient care advocacy organization that promotes and is an advocate for shared decision-making between patients and their healthcare providers. A website, MyHealthResource.org, an online database, provides pertinent information appropriate to healthcare programs and services in California.
"One of my biggest concerns is that if the underinsured and uninsured find out that they have no benefits, they won't seek care," said Robles.
Elizabeth Helms, president and CEO of TMJ and Orofacial Pain Society of America said that she became involved in healthcare reform after she was diagnosed with a health condition that her HMO refused to cover. "I sued them," she said, adding that the experience led her to roll up her sleeves and become a patient advocate. She urged attendees to fill out the postcards. "Last year, the governor had healthcare reform at the top of his list. We worked around the clock to get the health legislation through, but it missed getting on the ballot by inches."
Helms urged everyone to become a health advocate. "We need to have voices in the community," said Helms, who said that acquiring healthcare will become even more difficult in years to come. "The cost of healthcare is rising. Health plans are now attempting to find pre-existing conditions that patients may not have disclosed," she said. "The Department of Managed Healthcare is doing a full legal investigation into stopping these practices."
Pausing, she said, "Don't be afraid to make that call about any healthcare issues or concerns on the state level. Ask your doctor, 'Can you go with me and have a meeting with my legislator?'" There are so many resources out there that can help you," said Helms.