Budget Veto Would Delay Payments to Struggling Health Clinics

Share |
(Sacramento, CA)
Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Twenty-eight-year old single mom Cherise Scott is preparing for a double blow. She handles medical records at the Miners Family Health Center in the small town of Grass Valley in the Sierra Nevada foothills. The budget impasse may force the clinic to shut down…and she’d be out of a job. She’d also be without a health clinic for herself and her three kids -- 8-month-old twins and an eight-year-old.

“Shots, immunizations, colds, we come here for all of that.”

Scott says Miners is one of the only clinics near her rural town of Smartville that takes Californians on the public health program Medicaid or Medi-Cal as it’s called here.

“It’s a concern because without Medi-Cal I don’t have health coverage, at all, and that means I would have to pay out of my pocket and I can’t afford to do that either with gas prices.”

And with these obstacles Scott says she may have to face some tough decisions.

Scott: “I probably, yeah, just wouldn’t go to the doctor. Use the ER with major things that I needed.” 

Like most community health clinics across the state, the Miners Family Health Center gets about half of its funding from state Medi-Cal dollars – that money ran out in mid-July. The clinic treats about a third of Grass Valley and neighboring Nevada City residents – mainly low income and elderly patients.

Clinic CEO Scott McFarland says it will only get worse. He says the clinic’s $300,000 short-term emergency credit line is about to run out. He didn’t plan for the budget gridlock to go on for more than six weeks.

“It is a serious reality that if this budget goes into November there may be some real serious consequences and we may have to close at that point.”
That would mean about 30 people would lose their jobs. And, McFarland says it would be hard to re-open after the budget passes and clinics are paid back. Miners still owes about $250,000 in interest payments on loans they took out in previous years to cover late budgets.

“It’s disappointing and it’s frustrating and it’s scary. Even for myself how am I going to pay my bills if Miners isn’t open, and what am I going to do with my staff, how do I explain this to my staff and how do I explain this to 30,000 patients, we’re sorry we’re not going to provide this service any more.” 
Carmela Castellano-Garcia says a lot of clinics are in the same situation as Miners. She’s with the California Primary Care Association which advocates for community health clinics across the state. The longer this unprecedented stalled budget drags out she says the more it will cripple providers.

“I think we are really on the brink of a turning point for the health centers and they’re ability to hold out, the fact that there is no end in a sight is what makes it particularly precarious.“
What is certain is if the budget impasse continues for much longer some California residents will see community clinics in their area close.