California health clinic money runs dry

August 23, 2010 6:49:07 PM PDT
The state legislature's failure to deliver a budget plan on time is about to start hurting some of California's most vulnerable people. Health clinics that treat the poor all over California are about to run out of money.

About four million Californians rely on those community health clinics and they visit the clinics at an average of four times a year, but medical care could be challenging in the coming weeks and maybe months.

Nearly 1,000 community health clinics for the poor across the state, like Las Palmas, are in trouble. On Monday, the state issued the very last Medi-Cal checks it can during the budget stalemate, which is now in its 54th day.

Clinics had been staying afloat using the state's $2 billion emergency fund, but it has now run dry. Doctors say they'll cut back services and hope they won't have to shut down.

"We're going to end up with skeleton coverage, and the care is going to be minimized. Patients are going to suffer," says Augusto Sy, M.D. from the Las Palmas Health Clinic.

Ceceilia Savala's family is on Medi-Cal; the budget stalemate has already forced her to go to four clinics because many won't take new patients as long as the state isn't paying. She worries this clinic might close its doors.

"We don't have the finances if she gets sick or anything. So she'll stay sick, I guess. It's sad. It's sad," says Savala.

Budget negotiations have been painstakingly slow. Democrats cannot stomach anymore cuts or even the total elimination of social programs and want to raise taxes to help save them.

"While we recognize the great pain in the clinics not getting the payment they need and deserve, it's a worse outcome to eliminate the clinics," says St. Sen. Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento.

But Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger refuses to entertain proposals that raise taxes in this recession.

"As soon as the Legislature passes a budget that we can sign that does not include taxes, then we'll be able to make those payments," says Rachel Arrezola, the governor's spokesperson.

Such strong stands cause further delay and hurt Californians who aren't part of the budget process.

"We're the ones that are lower poverty, we're the ones that get the short end of the stick," says Savala.

The latest state budget ever was September 23.

On Monday, the state controller and the state treasurer told the Legislature that public schools will not be getting their $2.5 billion payment next month as long as there's no state budget.


Load Comments