The War on Medi-Cal

SF Gray Panthers July 2009 Newsletter

The War on Medi-Cal

Written by a SF Gray Panther member and plaintiff in an upcoming suit against termination of important Medi-Cal benefits.

Nine years ago MediCal saved my life. I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer and could not pay for my care. MediCal covered two surgeries, two hospital overnights, and examination consultation with a prominent oncologist, and the coordinative work and monitoring laboratory work of my primary care provider.

In the course of the Bush years, MediCal has fallen on evil days. MediCal recipients are finding it terminally difficult to find doctors—specialists or primary care providers—to treat them; and in the medical profession and in the media MediCal is increasingly viewed as an encumbrance. The State of California proposed to cut the program in two areas: 10% deduction in reimbursement to providers and the exclusion from coverage of “optional” categories of  MediCal treatment.

Cutting 10% in medical reimbursement would hasten the flight of doctors and other health professionals and cripple pharmacies, diagnostic laboratories and public hospitals. It is equally disheartening to read the list of “optional benefits”: adult dentistry, acupuncture, audiology and speech therapy, chiropractic, optometric and optician services, podiatry, psychology and incontinence creams and washes. For instance a biannual optometric examination is the only chance most people get to be screened for glaucoma, retinitis or macular degeneration. The distinction between optional and essential does not make medical sense.  Who decided that—someone in the Bush administration?

It should come as good news for those who have a partiality for agitation that more than mere hand-wringing has taken place in the community of those who deplore the cuts. In April 2008 the Independent Living Center of Southern California and a coalition of other groups, including the San Francisco Gray Panthers, sued the state in federal court to block the 10% provider cuts. The suit was won but was appealed in February of this year. Attorney Lynn Carman of the MediCal Defense Fund argued that for a state to run a poverty health program, the program must measure up to federal health standards, and that further emasculation of MediCal would render it disfunctional. The appeals court has yet to issue a ruling.

As regards the cuts in optional treatment, the Gray Panthers have filed a preliminary restraining order in a separate but complementary suit.

My escape nine years ago from a slow, quiet, and below the radar death has acquired for me visionary American themes. To be deprived of the triad of rights in the Declaration of Independence, to fail of protection of the cruel and all too usual punishment for being poor, to come short of equal treatment under the law: all these themes call up the words of Martin Luther King Jr. to the effect that, “Of all forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.”

Let us not accept the unacceptable  Let us insist on health justice for all.

Excerpted from a letter to the Berkeley Daily Planet by Anne Richardson, an East Bay Medicare/MediCal recipient and a San Francisco Gray Panther.

Read “Schwarzenegger Pushing Murderous Health Cuts” on the SF Gray Panthers website.

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