By David Gorn, California Healthline
Thousands of doctors, dentists, patients, health care professionals and other protesters are expected to gather Tuesday outside the Capitol Building to support the idea of reversing a 10 percent Medi-Cal provider rate cut. Organizers say it will be the largest health care protest in Sacramento history.
"We have people hopping on buses in Oceanside at 4 in the morning to get here," said Molly Weedn, director of media relations for the California Medical Association. "People are coming from all over the state, and we've seen support from both sides in the Legislature. All of this [support] shows that the public doesn't want Medi-Cal to be cut, so that's why we're doing this."
It has been a tough couple of weeks for proponents of reversing the rate cut made in 2011 and not yet implemented because of court battles.
On May 24, the Ninth Circuit federal appeals court ruled the Medi-Cal cut to be legal, and lifted the injunctions on its implementation. That means the lawsuits to reverse the reduction now have only legal recourse, and that's an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Two bills moving through the legislature are seeking to stop the cuts.
The day before the court ruled, a bill to reverse the Medi-Cal reduction, SB 640 was put on suspense file in the Senate Committee on Appropriations. Until that day, the bill had bipartisan, unanimous support in committee voting.
The companion piece of legislation to SB 640 was AB 900. It passed committee and the Assembly floor, but only after the scope was narrowed to reverse cuts exclusively for certain skilled nursing facilities.
"The legislation is certainly an important piece," Weedn said, "but this is something that can ultimately be fixed in the budget. We think it's unique, this coalition coming together, because we've all independently fought against these Medi-Cal cuts for years, and now we're together. That coalition and the bipartisan support [in the Legislature] is pretty remarkable."
Weedn said she expects 5,000 to 7,000 people to show up on the Capitol lawns, and that's a conservative estimate, she said. "We've never had a group that size rallying around a health care issue in Sacramento," she said. The event will run most of the day.
According to Jan Emerson-Shea, vice president of external affairs for the California Hospital Association, legislation may have stalled but there is a real possibility that the Medi-Cal reduction could be reversed in budget negotiations over the next few weeks.
"The situation is still very fluid," Emerson-Shea said. "There is still a lot of negotiations and discussion that will play out over the next few weeks."
Legislators are keenly aware of the problem with the provider cuts, she said.
"The event just cements the issue in legislators' minds as a high priority," Emerson-Shea said.