Medicare and Medi-Cal Public Forum Generates Forward Motion
Sacramento, CA — “It’s not over until it’s over,” said Bruce Wagstaff, Director, Sacramento County Department of Human Assistance, motivating the crowd who had gathered to hear about cuts in Medi-Cal at the Medicare and Medi-Cal Public Forum last Thursday in Sacramento. Organized by the California Medicare Coalition, a project of California Health Advocates, the forum gave the public an opportunity to be informed and voice their concerns about the proposed Medi-Cal cuts. These cuts are part of the Governor’s revised budget proposal which includes an added $1.1 billion in cuts to health and human services from his initial budget proposal in January. More than 80 consumers and representatives from 42 organizations and agencies attended the forum. Many expressed that they would attend public hearings after the May revise, participate in Disability Capitol Action Day on May 15, 2008, and share their stories with their legislators.
CMC public forum attendees
Moderated by David Lipschutz, Interim CEO/Staff Attorney of California Health Advocates, a top-notch panel of advocates and officials reported on the proposed cuts and shared information about their organizations’ services.
Angela Gilliard, Legislative Advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, spoke at the forum. She has been tracking developments in California’s budget since January 7, 2008, when Governor Schwarzenegger released the budget and called for a fiscal emergency at the same time. She reported little good news; as the Medi-Cal program is already very lean, the services being cut are the essentials.
One cut that has already been approved is the 10% payment cut to providers. Some provider groups, including the California Medical Association, filed a lawsuit opposing the cuts on May 5, 2008.
Another cut still awaiting approval is the elimination of dental care, along with other “optional services” including optical care, optician services, chiropractic care, psychiatry, podiatry and audiology. However, Ms. Gilliard is optimistic that since “optional services” are only a small percentage of the budget, if dental care can be saved, other “optional services” may also be saved.
Emphasizing that legislators do listen to their constituents, Mr. Wagstaff encouraged people to get involved. He promised that his department (the Department of Human Assistance) will do all it can to be responsive to consumers, which was met with cheers and applause led by his staff.
Many Medi-Cal recipients who also have Medicare may be affected if the cuts are approved. At the forum, Wayne Lindley, California HICAP/SHIP Director, introduced the Health Insurance Counseling & Advocacy Program (HICAP), which helps people understand how Medicare works and how it coordinates with other insurance programs, including Medi-Cal. Medicare beneficiaries affected by Medi-Cal cuts may go to their local HICAP for help at 1-800-434-0222. HICAP can also help refer them to other agencies serving Medi-Cal recipients.
In Sacramento, Program Manager Margaret Reilly manages the local HICAP which also serves eight other counties. “Advocacy is our middle name,” Ms. Reilly proudly stated, and gave the apt analogy of education — just as education is as good as your child’s teacher, your quality of healthcare is all about your local access to care and your to access to health care advocacy. She acknowledged the attendance of six HICAP Counselors at the forum and recognized their passion and commitment to helping Medicare beneficiaries. “We may not be able to get you what you want, but we will surely do our best to get you the care you need.”
The Health Rights Hotline also helps people eligible for both Medicare and Medi-Cal, those with Medi-Cal only, as well as people who have no health insurance. Jayne Burkman, Medicare Policy Analyst who attended the forum, gave two examples that illustrated the range of cases Health Rights Hotline helps with:
- helping people navigate their way around health insurance, which many find complicated and daunting, and
- helping people with appeals when their insurance does not cover a certain service.
The HICAP serving Sacramento and the Health Rights Hotline are programs of Legal Services of Northern California.
A question and answer session followed the forum’s panel discussion, which included information sharing as people connected to take action to oppose the Medi-Cal cuts. One attendee noted: “I’ll do my part to spread it around to my community. If the cuts to specialty MD’s go through, I’ll go blind and probably die. I’m that sick”.
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California Health Advocates is dedicated to Medicare beneficiary advocacy and education efforts for Californians (www.cahealthadvocates.org). For a listing of local HICAP offices, visit https://cahealthadvocates.org/HICAP/.