Urban, Rural Local Elected Officials Urge California Lawmakers to Support AB 900

Aug 09, 2013, 14:06 ET from California Hospital Association

Thousands of Frail, Elderly Patients Will be Displaced if Looming Medi-Cal Cuts Take Effect

SACRAMENTO, Calif., Aug. 9, 2013 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- Local elected leaders from rural Northern California to San Diego are calling on state lawmakers to enact legislation that will help preserve access to vital health care services for California's most vulnerable patients.

AB 900, authored by Assemblymember Luis Alejo (D – Salinas), would partially reverse Medi-Cal payment cuts approved by the Legislature in 2011 (AB 97), but placed on hold until recently due to legal challenges.  On average, the cuts total 25 percent or greater for hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities, as opposed to a 10 percent reduction for doctors and most other health care providers.

"Thousands of frail, elderly patients are at risk of being uprooted and displaced if these Medi-Cal cuts are allowed to take effect," said David Rabbitt, chairman of the Sonoma County Board of Supervisors.  "There are not enough available beds or alternative care settings for these individuals, even if they are moved away from their families and the communities they live in."

According to the California Hospital Association (CHA), last month's announcement that the 96-bed Palomar Continuing Care Center in Escondido (San Diego County) will close this fall due to the pending Medi-Cal cuts is "the first of many health care dominoes that are likely to fall" unless AB 900 is enacted.  Similar outcomes are likely in both rural and urban communities across the state, including in Shasta and Plumas counties in the north, the San Francisco Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.  More than 30,000 patients a year are cared for in hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities throughout the state.

"This is not a partisan issue, nor is it an urban vs. rural issue," said Plumas County Supervisor Jon Kennedy.  "This is about ensuring that our most frail and vulnerable patients have access to the care they need and deserve."

Statewide organizations representing local jurisdictions including the California State Association of Counties, Regional Council of Rural Counties and Association of California Healthcare Districts have lent their support to AB 900.  Additionally, the Boards of Supervisors in San Francisco, Plumas and Sierra counties have passed resolutions urging the Legislature to pass AB 900, while other counties, cities and individual elected officials submitted letters in support alongside more than 2,000 concerned Californians, labor organizations, community groups and healthcare organizations. 

In a support letter to Assemblymember Alejo, Alameda County Supervisor Wilma Chan urged the Legislature "not to ignore our seniors and disabled Medi-Cal patients with critical medical needs."  According to Chan, reversing the cuts to hospital-based skilled-nursing units is necessary "so that individuals who can no longer care for themselves can be assured of living and dying with dignity."

And San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee said, "Distinct part nursing facilities are working to create livable communities and allow patients to move through the health care system from acute care to post-acute care and back to their lives and their families. And without AB 900, many of the facilities all around California will be in danger of closing so we need a state budget that restores the cuts to these facilities."

According to CHA, Medi-Cal beneficiaries make up nearly 80 percent of the patients receiving hospital-based skilled-nursing care. These patients require specialized and medically complex care that freestanding nursing facilities and other health care providers will not or cannot provide. In the last five years, approximately 40 hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities in California (about one-third) have closed due to financial issues that further jeopardize California's health care safety net.

AB 900 represents a partial solution to the Medi-Cal payment crisis.  The measure, which will be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee on August 12, provides some limited relief to hospital-based skilled-nursing facilities, although it leaves retroactive cuts in place and doesn't address the cuts to other health care providers.  The bill has, to date, received overwhelming bipartisan support in both houses of the Legislature.  In late May, the bill passed out of the Assembly on a 76-0 vote; and in June, the Senate Health Committee supported the bill on an 8-0 vote.  

In addition to local government support, the bill enjoys broad support from community groups, health care providers and professionals, local jurisdictions, unions and business groups. 

For more information about the impact of the pending Medi-Cal payment cuts on patient care, visit the Caring is our Calling website sponsored by CHA at www.CaringisourCalling.org.  A complete listing of coalition members, news stories and patient impact videos can be found under the AB 900 tab.

SOURCE California Hospital Association