Editorial: The Valley will feel better when medical reform passes

Assembly Member Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto
Assembly Member Kristin Olsen, R-Modesto Vida File Photo

Filling an anticipated billion-dollar hole in California’s health care funding was so important that Gov. Jerry Brown put it right up there with fixing California’s roads last year, calling a special legislative session.

While we’ve still got plenty of potholes, we could be well on our way to filling that health care funding void. Even better, our legislators are on the cusp of simultaneously improving our health care system.

We wrote about the Managed Care Organization legislation last week. While complicated, it boils down to the state restructuring how it taxes and funds health care solutions. Unfortunately, California’s methods no longer comply with federal law, and if the state doesn’t fix the problem we will lose $1.3 billion a year in federal funds.

The solution is being cast as a “tax swap,” altering several different tax streams. That means two-thirds of legislators must agree to it. So it’s fortunate that it has the backing of legislative Democrats, many Republicans, the governor and the California Chamber of Commerce; even the Howard Jarvis Tax Foundation is neutral. Yes, a few out-of-state organizations are blogging in opposition, casting it as a tax increase. First, they don’t live here. Second, as myopic as they are, they seem blind to a solution that helps virtually everyone.

We noted last week that the provision puts $300 million more into treatment for people with developmental disabilities. Since then, we’ve learned that’s only a start.

Our Valley legislators – Assembly members Kristin Olsen of Modesto and Adam Gray of Merced and Sens. Anthony Cannella of Ceres and Cathleen Galgiani of Stockton – have helped secure regulatory debt relief for rural medical facilities and money to help create critically needed residency programs in area hospitals.

First and foremost, the so-called MCO legislation gets the state in line with federal rules, protecting our federal funding. Losing $1.3 billion would reduce insurance options for the state’s poorest people – many living here. We already have fewer insurance options than anywhere else in California; such a loss reduces them further.

Second, it provides a $100 million tax cut for health insurance providers. Before rolling your eyes, this money must be used to either improve services or reduce premiums.

Third, it settles a $120 million dispute with mostly rural medical facilities. Without this settlement, 61 hospitals will have to cough up money they don’t have.

The legislation also increases funding for medical residency programs. This is no small matter. Bright young people are graduating from medical schools and finding too few residency programs to train them. Without those programs, we get fewer doctors – especially here in the Valley where there is already a critical shortage.

The PRIME program, through UC Merced, will get additional residency slots. Negotiations are continuing, so there is a possibility even more money could be made available, Gray told two members of The Bee Editorial Board on Feb. 26.

This legislative package is critically important. The parts that help create doctors, provide care for the developmentally disabled and ease burdens on rural hospitals reflect priorities every one of our elected leaders should share.

As Olsen put it: “This is great policy.”

We agree. We hope it passes this week.