SACRAMENTO — Despite a warning that the Medi-Cal program is "on the verge of collapse," an $18.7-million bill to prevent a Deukmejian Administration-ordered cut in fees for doctors and others who provide health care to the poor was rejected Monday by the Assembly.
A bipartisan 49-17 vote, five short of the 54 votes or two-thirds majority needed for passage, was cast on the measure, authored by Senate President Pro Tem David A. Roberti (D-Los Angeles). It previously passed the Senate by a 35-1 vote.
The 10% cut in fees was ordered by Deukmejian to help make up a $280-million shortfall in the Medi-Cal program late last year.
Thirty-seven Democrats and 12 Republicans voted for the bill to prevent the 10% cut, which already has been temporarily blocked by the courts. All 17 no votes came from GOP members.
"The Medi-Cal program could completely fall apart" if the 10% cut is successful, said Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan (D-Fresno), who served notice that he will seek reconsideration of the losing Assembly vote.
"What does this governor have against people who are sick?" Bronzan asked, noting that some health care providers are dropping out of the Medi-Cal program because of the threatened cut.
"If you want to see a real disaster, you kill this bill," said Assemblyman Curtis R. Tucker (D-Inglewood), chairman of the Health Committee.
GOP opponents argued that the Medi-Cal crisis presents a good chance to to work out some needed reforms in the $5-billion-a-year program that serves an estimated 3 million poor people.
"This is a quick fix that doesn't solve the problem," said Assemblyman Tom McClintock (R-Thousand Oaks). "The system is shot. . . . This crisis presents us with an opportunity for some serious, long-term reform. Let's do it right."
The cut in fees for Medi-Cal providers was announced in December after the Administration revealed that a combination of lower than expected revenues and higher than expected state spending could eliminate Deukmejian's $1-billion budget reserve if no corrective action were taken.
Democratic critics charged that the Administration deliberately used low Medi-Cal estimates earlier because the governor wanted to keep his budget surplus intact while he was running for reelection against Los Angeles Mayor Tom Bradley.
The California Medical Assn. filed the lawsuit to temporarily block the cut in fees.