SACRAMENTO, California — Health care providers rallying at the Capitol on Tuesday warned that a Central Valley medical center could shut down and doctors throughout California could stop accepting Medicaid patients if a state funding cut is not reversed.
Thousands of people representing doctors, hospitals and unionized health care workers filled the Capitol grounds to rally against a 10 percent reduction in the amount the state pays for Medicaid reimbursements.
The reduction would jeopardize care for the low-income patients who depend on the program, known as Medi-Cal, according to the California Medical Association, one of the leaders of the "We Care for California" coalition.
The association says ongoing cuts have left doctors with little option but to stop taking qualified patients because the reimbursements do not meet the cost of overhead and supplies to treat them.
Without restorations, Dr. Ruth Haskins, an OB-GYN in the Sacramento suburb of Folsom, said she'll have to cut back on the number of Medi-Cal patients she accepts.
Haskins takes on 18 to 20 women due to give birth nine months later. Reimbursement rates mean no more than five of those can be Medi-Cal patients, she said, a figure that would drop to three or four under the cuts.
Her office already turns away at least two Medi-Cal patients each day. "I can only take so many, and then I gotta say, sorry, I gotta keep my lights on," Haskins said.
The 10 percent rate reduction for Medi-Cal providers was adopted two years ago to deal with the state deficit. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services approved the cut, but a court battle prevented it from going into effect in June 2011.
The state prevailed in a federal appeals court ruling issued last month. Democratic Gov. Jerry Brown will soon have the authority to begin implementing the cuts retroactively.
Sharon Spurgeon, CEO and administrator for Coalinga Regional Medical Center, said in an interview during Tuesday's rally that the center would owe in excess of $5 million if the state enacts retroactive cuts. The cost would force the facility, located about 70 miles southwest of Fresno, to shut down.
"If this is not rescinded, we won't be in operation," Spurgeon said.
H.D. Palmer, the governor's finance spokesman, said Tuesday that the state will save $459 million in the fiscal year that starts July 1. He said the state will only be able to balance its budget this year by continuing past spending reductions.
"We cannot repeat the mistakes of the past and commit the state to an ongoing higher level of spending than the state can sustain," Palmer said.
The Assembly and Senate have not proposed restoring the 10 percent provider rate cut in their versions of the new state budget. The Senate is pushing to restore an earlier cut to provide adult dental care to Medi-Cal recipients.
A bill to address the cuts did advance from the Assembly, but only after the restoration was limited to hospital-based skilled nursing facilities.
The state has and will continue to monitor access for Medi-Cal recipients, said Norman Williams, a spokesman for the state Department of Health Care Services.
"It will help ensure that the rate reductions will not unacceptably impact member access, and that if problems occur, we will quickly address them," Williams said in a statement.
Besides doctors, the coalition urging restorations includes the California Hospital Association, SEIU-UHW, American Medical Response, Anthem Blue Cross, Blue Shield of California, California Association of Physicians Groups, California Dental Association, California Primary Care Association, Dignity Health, Health Net, Kaiser Permanente and Molina Healthcare.
Associated Press writer Judy Lin contributed to this report.