Health care for Orange County's poor and uninsured could go from bad to worse if the governor's proposed cuts in the Medi-Cal program are approved, county health providers and officials told a state Medi-Cal task force Tuesday.
"We are viewing additional cutbacks in Medi-Cal with great dread," said Dr. Howard Waitzkin, professor of medicine and social sciences at UC Irvine. "Substantial financial barriers to adequate health care already exist. . . . Because of low levels of (Medi-Cal) reimbursement, there are very few places where poor people can obtain medical care in Orange County."
Waitzkin, who also heads the North Orange County Community Clinic, added, "We expect that further cuts will reduce still further the number of practitioners, clinics and hospitals that are willing to see indigent patients."
Gov. George Deukmejian has proposed a 10% cut in fees paid to physicians and other providers, plus a $150-million general cut in the program's $5-billion annual budget as a way of solving a $280-million Medi-Cal budget deficit.
Hearings Around State
A bipartisan task force of state legislators, formed in response to the governor's proposal, held a public hearing Tuesday in Anaheim, one of six so far conducted around the state.
"This is a program that needs more funds, not less," said Assemblyman Bruce Bronzan (D-Fresno), who, along with state Sen. Alfred E. Alquist (D-San Jose), has conducted the hearings.
Bronzan said his committee has heard "horror stories" throughout California about poor or uninsured people not receiving proper medical treatment or being refused treatment because of an inability to pay.
One woman told the panel Tuesday that her young son, who was suffering from the croup, was forced to leave an Orange County hospital a day early because the extra day he needed to recover was not covered by Medi-Cal.
"We've gained a lot of specific information about the Medi-Cal program from these hearings," Bronzan said. "I hope the governor's mind remains open on this issue."
The task force expects to present the governor and Legislature with recommendations next month on the long-term structure and funding for Medi-Cal--recommendations, Bronzan added, that will make for "a workable and humane program."