Health Advocate Leaders Respond to Governor Newsom’s Revised Budget Proposal
Amy Moy / (415) 518-4465
- Jennifer Wonnacott, Vice President Communications, Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California, email@example.com
- Megan Renfrew, Director of Communications, California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems,
- Ayo Taylor, Associate Director of Media Relations and Strategic Communications, California Health Advocates
- Jacob Greenstein, Communications Specialist, California Medical Association, (916) 704-3745, firstname.lastname@example.org
- Amy Moy, Chief External Affairs Officer, Essential Access Health, email@example.com
CALIFORNIA – This morning California Governor Gavin Newsom released his revised budget for the 2021-22 fiscal year. Health care leaders laud the Governor’s commitment to recovery from the COVID-19 pandemic and recognition of the opportunity to address inequities in health care with investments in and expansion of certain public health care programs. However, critical work is still needed to ensure the State’s telehealth policies and reimbursement rates remain in place so that we can continue to reduce disparities, rather than create unnecessary barriers to care.
The Governor’s budget proposes to invest significantly in telehealth, but unfortunately funds audio visits at only 65% of the Medi-Cal rate, which means 35% less payment than currently provided for providers whose patients prefer audio, or don’t have access to video for their telehealth appointment. Assembly bill 32, authored by Assemblymember Aguiar-Curry, would maintain the same reimbursement for office visits for some types of health centers regardless of modality.
The release of the May Revise presents an opportunity to continue conversations about how to most effectively invest in telehealth, including parity for audio visits, to ensure equal access to care for Medi-Cal patients.
Health care advocates and providers look forward to continuing to work with the Legislature and the Governor to support a comprehensive telehealth policy that builds off lessons learned during the pandemic, meets the demand for virtual remote care, and ensures access for all populations, as addressed in AB 32:
“With the state’s fiscal health far exceeding expectations, the Governor took a step in the right direction, but the Administrations’ telehealth proposal is a clear example of where more can be done,” said Andie Martinez-Patterson Senior Vice President of Government Affairs with CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates. “While we are grateful this proposal recognizes the role of audio-only care for helping California come back, the rate proposal will undermine providers serving the Medi-Cal community in making clinical decisions that will best support timely access to care. Eliminating the ability of 7.4 million community health center patients to receive care via asynchronous, and remote patient monitoring will set us back. Telehealth, including access to audio only modalities that address the digital divide, has the power to be a great equalizer. The administration must invest now or risk widening the gap in care and recovery – they must maintain current audio-only payments and flexibilities post-pandemic for health centers. There is a clear model in how to do this in AB 32 (Aguiar-Curry), a bill now moving through the state’s Assembly.”
“For Medi-Cal and other at-risk patients who face unique barriers to care, telehealth provides a pathway to more equitable care. The majority of telehealth visits being conducted by public health care system providers are by phone, because it is the most convenient and accessible way for patients to receive needed care. We hope the State will advance equity for all and ensure that telehealth, including phone visits, remain available to those who need it the most,” said Erica Murray, President and CEO, California Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (CAPH).
“While the budget includes some critical investments in public health care, this budget also inexplicably falls short - and in fact reduces - access to audio visits in telehealth services, counter to the equity-centered approach California’s leadership has put forth,” said Jodi Hicks, President and CEO of Planned Parenthood Affiliates of California. “Cutting the rates for audio visits when we know it makes up a significant percentage of all patient visits, including a quarter of all Planned Parenthood services statewide, is a dangerous step backward in the fight for health equity. It will increase barriers to care for patients who prefer audio, don’t have access to video or require audio for privacy or safety concerns. We look forward to working with the Legislature to ensure the final budget bridges the divide between Californians insured by Medi-Cal and those with commercial insurance to ensure people have equitable access to care—no matter what.”
“Telehealth has emerged as a critical pathway for patients across the state to get time-sensitive sexual and reproductive health care remotely during the pandemic,” said Amy Moy, Chief External Affairs Officer at Essential Access Health. “Although COVID-19 created an urgent need for telehealth adoption, barriers to in-person services like transportation, child care, and time away from work are not new. Our state leaders must take action to advance health and equity for all Californians by ensuring that comprehensive telehealth modalities – including video and audio-only visits – continue to be viable and affordable access points during the public health emergency and beyond.”
“As we continue to wrestle with the pandemic and to work towards a more equitable health care landscape, providing and sustaining access to care through telehealth must remain a priority,” said Peter N. Bretan, Jr., M.D., California Medical Association President. “Telehealth has become an essential tool for physicians’ practices during this time because it allows them to provide safe and effective care to their patients. Additionally, telehealth bridges access barriers by utilizing technology to better harness physician time and expertise, and connecting patients to their care providers more quickly, efficiently, and conveniently. Protecting the telehealth expansions, especially those that relate to telephonic visits which play a crucial role in bridging access barriers, is essential to both meeting our health care demands in this moment, and to ensuring that all Californians – regardless of their geography, income, or background – can receive access to quality care in the future.”
This coalition of safety net providers and other advocates urge the Legislature to include AB 32 in this year’s budget, which offers a telehealth solution that is inclusive, fair and equitable, ensuring equal access to care for all Californians.