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Providers Face Dilemma in Proposed Medi-Cal Cuts

January 11, 2003|Ronald D. White | Times Staff Writer

Health-care providers serving large numbers of Medi-Cal patients said Friday that Gov. Gray Davis' proposed budget cuts would force them to consider turning away patients or dropping out of the state's medical insurance program altogether.

"I'll have to take a hard look at staying in the Medi-Cal system," said 51-year-old Eddie Bubar, owner of Eddie's Pharmacy in West Hollywood, who said he has a large number of HIV and AIDS patients. Bubar said that about 15% of his business comes from Medi-Cal, which primarily serves the poor and the disabled.

"There may be nothing to make on this [program] at all. I might have to do it at a loss," Bubar said.

The governor on Friday proposed reducing Medi-Cal reimbursement rates to doctors, pharmacists and other medical providers by 5%, in addition to the 10% cut he outlined in December. It's part of his plan to cut the state's contribution to the Medi-Cal program by $3.6 billion a year.

Another pharmacist, Harold Washington of Bevans Pharmacy in South Los Angeles, says 80% of his sales come from the state- and federally funded Medi-Cal program. The budget changes, he said, may force him to stop carrying costly brand-name drugs and stock only generics.

"I would have to hope that our patients stay with us," said Washington, who recently took over the business from his father.

Davis also proposed eliminating 18 optional benefits for Medi-Cal recipients, including adult dental services, hospice care, optometry, physical therapy and acupuncture.

Youngja Yoo, 51, a South Korean native, sold her local flower shop a few years ago to pursue her dream of running a clinic specializing in acupuncture and other forms of Eastern medicine.

Her Traditional Healing Arts clinic in West Los Angeles now depends on Medi-Cal for 40% of her business.

Yoo says she will have to open a new business, probably a restaurant, to help cover the costs of caring for Medi-Cal patients.

Liz Snow, director of public policy for the California Dental Assn., said her group estimates that 1,600 to 1,800 dentists around the state could be put out of business by the governor's proposal to eliminate Medi-Cal's adult dental services.

"This is very shortsighted," Snow said, adding that a skilled dentist can spot more serious medical problems, such as diabetes and heart conditions, some of which could go unnoticed and wind up increasing health-care costs when those problems reach acute stages.

Lena Becker, administrator of the Roze Room Hospice agency of Los Angeles, which treats terminally ill patients, said she was shocked that the governor had proposed cutting hospice funding.

"It's going to be very difficult to administer care to our patients," the administrator said.

"We will never decline care. We'll have to sharpen our pencils and try to evaluate what this means."

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