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Signatures sent in for Medi-Cal funding measure

Health care providers and community groups have gathered and are submitting 1.3 million signatures to put a measure on November’s ballot that they say will provide stable funding for health care for children and, through Medi-Cal, for seniors and low-income residents.

“California voters will get the chance this fall to strengthen this critically important law, and improve access to quality affordable medical care for those who need it most,” California Hospital Association President and CEO C. Duane Dauner said in a news release.

The Medi-Cal Funding and Accountability Act of 2014 “will ensure California receives ongoing access to approximately $3 billion annually in federal matching funds,” Dauner said. “This is California’s fair share, money that would otherwise be left on the table in Washington, D.C.”

California’s hospitals for the past several years have taxed themselves to get access to the federal funds, but the budget-crunched state at times has diverted some of that money to its general fund. Last year’s SB 239, passed by the Legislature without any opposing votes and signed into law by Gov. Jerry Brown, extended this fee through 2017 and specified how the money could be spent.

This measure would make that law permanent, and would require that “any changes in the program or to how the money is spent would have to be approved by voters first,” Christopher Dawes, president and CEO of Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital Stanford and Stanford Children’s Health, noted in the release.

Patients aren’t assessed any fees, and there are no new or increased taxes.

“We don’t have a single voice of opposition – this is a win-win for everybody… and it doesn’t cost a dime to California taxpayers,” said Anne McLeod, the California Hospital Association’s senior vice president of health policy.

The money must be spent to provide health care services to children and, through Medi-Cal, to elderly and low-income Californians. Without the federal funds, money would have to come from privately insured patients; the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office finds the measure would save state taxpayers $500 million for children’s health coverage starting in 2016-17, growing to more than $1 billion per year by 2019-20.

Dauner said people with private insurance shouldn’t face higher rates to subsidize unpaid Medi-Cal bills if federal money is available to cover the cost. “The Act is a common-sense answer to helping people provide health care to those who need it most, at great benefit to California taxpayers.”

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Medical orgs put up $7.5m against MICRA measure

As predicted, California’s medical establishment is starting to put up big money to oppose a proposed ballot measure that would lift the cap on non-economic damages that can be awarded in medical-negligence lawsuits.

The California Medical Association, California Hospital Association, California Dental Association, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California and Central Valley Health Network recently created a “Patients and Providers to Protect Access and Contain Health Costs” committee to oppose the measure.

That committee got its first big cash injection last week: $5 million from the California Medical Association. The California Hospitals Committee on Issues anted up Wednesday with $2.5 million.

Leading the charge for the ballot measure is Bob Pack of Danville, whose two children were killed by a drugged driver in 2003. Supported by the Consumer Watchdog advocacy group, Pack says his proposed ballot measure – by raising California’s nearly 40-year old limit on medical-negligence awards and force doctors to check a statewide database before prescribing narcotic drugs – would prevent other families from suffering as his has.

The medical organizations see the proposed measure as “a very stark, trial-lawyer-sponsored attempt to increase their ability for a payday,” said Dr. Paul Phinney, the California Medical Association’s president and CEO. They say it will boost Californians’ medical costs without doing anything to improve care.

The proposed measure is awaiting an official title and summary from the state attorney general’s office before it can be cleared to start gathering petition signatures.