The fight for healthcare in California is far from won. As we all endure a pandemic that has painfully cost lives of loved ones and livelihoods, the costs for all of us have been worsened by grossly lacking state oversight of senior and end-of-life care facilities and health disparities resulting from ongoing healthcare inequities.
Our State Legislature had an opportunity to make strides to improve access, safety and quality of healthcare in California this session but, instead, some Sacramento lawmakers have had their priorities on healthcare plain backwards. Senate Bill 380 is a prime example.
Before this legislative session began, federal administrative and major press reports exposed rampant fraud and scams in California’s now largely profit-focused end-of-life, hospice care industry. In fact, California now leads the nation, taking first place, in hospice fraud, scams and danger for those entrusted to end-of-life care facilities. Disregarding these substantiated dangers, just enough legislators have mistakenly advanced Senate Bill 380, which removes vital safeguards for patients at end-of-life seeking physician assisted suicide, despite opposition of senior and disability rights and Latino civil rights advocates.
In addition, California’s Medicaid program, called Medi-Cal, continues to fail participants, being near 50th in the nation for rate of reimbursement to medical providers. That means Medi-Cal offers so little reimbursement to potential healthcare providers that few participate in the program. And that means Medi-Cal patients do not have access to timely medical care because so few healthcare providers accept Medi-Cal. The healthcare providers that do accept Medi-Cal often can’t continue to, becoming financially burdened, insecure or even bankrupted. In December 2015, a complaint about the low rates having discriminatory impact to Latino Medi-Cal participants was filed with federal administrators against the State of California’s Medi-Cal program. The claims were filed and upheld by a state court judge and that litigation is still ongoing.
So California leads our nation in hospice fraud. And California is near last in Medicaid rates, such that Medi-Cal is being sued for failing to provide timely access to basic or specialty care through Medi-Cal. Ultimately, Medi-Cal failure hastens end-of-life for low-income participants.
As such, it is plain backwards to think that, amid a global pandemic no less, the place to start fixing our healthcare system is by removing the patient protections and sunset provision of California’s End of Life Act. But that’s just what Senate Bill 380 does and just enough legislators are moving it forward and they are outnumbering the ones with plain good sense. We need to set this course straight. Our lives and the safety of our loved ones depend on it.
Californians should benefit from medical choice and autonomy, regardless of their ethnicity or economic status. Opponents to SB 380 couldn’t want more for their communities of interest, whether seniors, disabled, or communities of color, to have medical choices and autonomy in choosing among readily accessible healthcare, especially among these vulnerable communities. But that is not the state of healthcare in California. We are first in the nation for hospice and end-of-life fraud. We are near last in the nation for rate of reimbursement to healthcare providers under Medi-Cal. It is unconscionable for legislators and proponents of SB 380 to brazenly remove patient protections in California’s End of Life law with such dangerous risks . Californians need to urge legislators to get our health priorities right.
Senate Bill 380 does nothing to solve healthcare disparities and only eliminates sensible safeguards, including eliminating oversight and a legislative review intended to protect Californians at end-of-life and/or facing healthcare disparities and inequity.
Some California legislators have their priorities wrong. It’s time they be set straight and first secure safe, accessible, timely healthcare and are accountable for protecting end-of-life care from bad actors. Advancing Senate Bill 380 is dangerous. First and foremost, California needs to protect against bad actors in end-of-life care and provide timely, accessible care under Medi-Cal. California Assembly leadership, Speaker Rendon, can set priorities right and shelve SB 380.