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Civil Rights Groups Sue CA To Force Improvements to Medi-Cal

Civil rights advocates are taking a new tack, fighting to lure more doctors to Medi-Cal by suing the state over reimbursement rates. (Kathy Yeulet/iStockphoto)
Civil rights advocates are taking a new tack, fighting to lure more doctors to Medi-Cal by suing the state over reimbursement rates. (Kathy Yeulet/iStockphoto)
July 13, 2017

LOS ANGELES -- Advocates filed a class action civil rights complaint against the state of California on Wednesday alleging that low reimbursement rates have led to a shortage of doctors who take Medi-Cal - a problem that disproportionately affects low income communities of color.

Lawyers for the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center filed the suit in Alameda County Superior Court. Attorney Darin Ranahan said access to health care has become a civil rights issue because a majority of the 13.5 million Californians on Medi-Cal are Latino.

"When a government entity disinvests from a program as it comes to treat more and more people of color, that's illegal race discrimination - and there's precedent for that,” Ranahan said.

The suit said doctors are quitting Medi-Cal in droves because California only reimburses them about half of what Medicare pays. That puts the state 48th in the nation for reimbursement rates to health providers.

Ranahan said the state is not meeting its legal requirement to have at least one primary care physician for every 2,000 Medi-Cal participants, and that leads to drastically reduced access compared with patients with Medicare or employer-sponsored insurance.

"They're constantly denied. They need services,” he said. "Calling up doctor's offices, even the ones that are listed in the booklets for their Medi-Cal plans, just say, 'Sorry, we don't take Medi-Cal. We're not taking any more Medi-Cal patients, etc.' "

Advocates are hoping the judge will order the state to come up with a plan to lure more doctors back to Medi-Cal. The state is expected to file a response to the suit within the next few months.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA