Local health care and union leaders are asking state lawmakers not to pull a health care safety net from under them. A proposal being considered would take county money currently used to pay for uninsured patients, and put it toward the expansion of Medi-Cal through the federal Affordable Care Act.
Although the A.C.A., which is scheduled to fully take effect January 1st, 2014, will get more people health care coverage, it's estimated three or four million people in California will still be uncovered. And, if the proposal passes, the county will no longer have a safety net to catch them and get them care.
"So where do these people go?," asked Regina Kane, President of the Kern County Chapter of SEIU and a county mental health nurse, in front of Kern Medical Center Monday morning.
Kane joined health care and other union leaders and aired concerns about the state's plan implementing the Affordable Care Act.
"I don't know how we will be able to pay for medications for these people," said Kane.
Kane says her patients rely on money from a health care realignment plan started more than 30 years ago. Under it, the state pays counties money for catching and caring for people who need help in a so-called "safety net." But , a state proposal is threatening to allow them to fall.
"If the realignment funding is going to be cut or severely diminished, these individuals that we serve will not be able to have their horrible thought problems decreased. And, they will just not be able to function in society," said Kane.
The proposal would use realignment money to pay to expand Medi-Cal under the Affordable Care Act. Those opposed believe the safety net should be strengthened to cover those not eligible under the A.C.A., like non-citizens and families that make too much for Medi-Cal but too little for the Covered California program. And, there's the ongoing question of, will California be ready to roll out the new plan by next year?
"Over the past few months, instead of we're going on January 1st, we're beginning to hear people in the administration saying if we go," said Paul Hensler, Chief Executive Officer of Kern Medical Center.
Hensler says there is still a lot that needs to be done. But, if the state isn't ready by the January 1st deadline, California could lose anywhere from $3.6 million to $7 million a day in federal money to pay for the expansion.
"So, we can still argue about how to divide it up, but I think the first job ought to be get it in the state then we can argue about how to divide it up," said Hensler.
Hensler says they are also asking lawmakers to allow KMC to continue the low income health care pilot program they are currently running. As it stands now, those 7,500 enrolled now would transition to Medi-Cal coverage on January 1st.