California’s looming state budget crisis is putting our most vulnerable patients at even greater risk.
Earlier this year, in an attempt to reduce costs, the state Legislature passed legislation calling for a 10 percent cut in payments to physicians and providers who care for Medi-Cal patients.
Medi-Cal, our state’s Medicaid program, provides needed health care to low-income residents and the elderly.
These cuts, which went into effect July 1, are especially damaging because our state’s reimbursement rates are already the lowest in the country, according to the California Medical Association.
Partly as a result, fewer than half the physicians practicing in California accept Medi-Cal patients.
With this additional cut in place, the number of doctors treating our most at-risk patients is sure to decrease even further.
The state’s community clinics, which provide a safety net for uninsured and low-income patients, will be especially hard hit.
These cuts will make it harder for low-income families to find quality health care.
In addition, they may cost Californians more in the long run. Rather than diagnosing diseases when they can be more easily (and cost-effectively) treated, doctors could end up treating sicker patients later and in the most costly setting , the emergency room.
As the CEO of a molecular diagnostics company, this is particularly troubling because I believe early detection of disease leads to more effective treatment, which in turn leads to better medical and economic outcomes.
For example, studies have shown that $1 spent on screening for Chlamydia, a common sexually transmitted disease, saves $12 in downstream medical costs.
Along these lines, recent data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that a staggering 25 percent of teenage girls have a sexually transmitted disease. In the face of statistics like this, now is clearly not the time to reduce access to preventive medicine that can reduce long-term health care costs.
The good news is that the Legislature can still fix this problem.
In fact, the state Assembly recently passed a bill that almost fully reversed the cuts, and a Senate bill reduced the cuts by 50 percent.
I applaud these efforts.
However, given the protracted budget stalemate and the state’s large budget deficit, most Sacramento analysts estimate that a budget agreement will not be reached before August or September.
In the meantime, physicians and health care providers must decide whether they can afford to treat nearly 6.6 million Medi-Cal patients at the reduced reimbursement rate.
Unfortunately, many can’t.
As a result, patients will receive worse care or no care at all, and the state will pay more in the long run.
That’s no way to fix a budget deficit, let alone care for California’s most at-risk patients.
Hank Nordhoff is chairman and CEO of Gen-Probe Inc.