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California Latino Advocates File Civil Rights Claim over Medi-Cal

Latino advocates announce a civil rights complaint over health care at a press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West)
Latino advocates announce a civil rights complaint over health care at a press conference in Los Angeles on Tuesday. (SEIU-United Healthcare Workers West)
December 16, 2015

California is violating the civil rights of Latinos by underfunding Medi-Cal, the state's health-care program for low-income families and the disabled, according to a complaint filed in federal court this week.

In the complaint, a coalition of Latino advocates argued that Medi-Cal reimbursement rates are so low that many doctors refuse to take it, which impedes access to health care. Catha Worthman, an attorney on the case, said the fact that almost two-thirds of Medi-Cal recipients are Latino makes this a civil rights issue that violates the equal protection clause of the Affordable Care Act.

"You have a system that has been created which is separate and unequal in health care," said Worthman, a partner with Feinberg, Jackson, Worthman and Wasow. "Access is inferior in Medi-Cal compared to the general population and the law requires that it be equal."

One of the plaintiffs is a Los Angeles woman, Analilia Jimenez Perea, whose son has cerebral palsy. She said they had to wait a year and a half to find a neurologist who accepts Medi-Cal.

Right now, Worthman said, the Golden State only reimburses doctors who treat Medi-Cal patients about half of what the state pays for treating seniors on Medicare.

"We're seeking very particular remedies, which include raising the reimbursement rates," she said. "So. while the case charges discrimination, the remedies would benefit everybody on Medi-Cal."

The complaint does not speculate how much it would cost California to raise reimbursement rates enough to convince more doctors to take Medi-Cal. The Office of Civil Rights, part of the federal Department of Health and Human Services, is expected to open an investigation.

Suzanne Potter, Public News Service - CA