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Denham healthcare bill addresses Valleys doctor shortage
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In early May, Congressman Jeff Denham voted to pass the American Health Care Act — but hesitantly. He cited concerns that the bill doesn’t quite do enough to ensure that the Valley’s issue with physician access is addressed, and promised that he would soon introduce legislation which would tackle the 10th congressional district’s unique healthcare needs. On Tuesday, Denham unveiled his plan to draw more doctors to the area.

Along with 21st congressional district Congressman David Valadao, Denham introduced HR 2779, the Assessing Critical Care Efforts to Strengthen Services Act (ACCESS Act). The bill is designed to study the best Medicaid reimbursement strategies, with the goal of enticing more physicians to work in areas with higher Medicaid enrollee populations, like the Central Valley.

“While the American Health Care Act addresses the issue of rising premiums to stabilize our nation’s healthcare system, we must also address the core issues that prevent patients from being able to find and keep a doctor who will accept their coverage,” said Denham. “California’s low Medicaid reimbursement rates only exacerbate the Central Valley’s existing doctor shortage.”

California’s Medi-Cal rates are nearly the lowest in the country at 48th, and an average Medi-Cal patient earns a doctor about $37. More than 12 million Californians are enrolled in Medi-Cal, or approximately a third of the state’s population, and over 35 percent of residents in California’s 10th congressional district are covered through Medi-Cal.

The ACCESS Act will develop a Medicaid Payment Model Demonstration Project via the Center for Medicare to focus on payment models for recruiting and retaining physicians to serve low-income individuals residing in counties with an especially high share of Medicaid enrollees.

“Here in the Valley, we know all too well that possession of an insurance card does not equate to healthcare services and medical treatment,” said Valadao, who represents other Central Valley counties like Fresno, Kern, Kings and Tulare. “By correcting California’s reimbursement method, we can encourage medical professionals to not only set up their practices in the Valley, but to provide medical services to all patients, including those who rely on the Medicaid program.”

The Central Valley’s low reimbursement rates were also affected when Gov. Jerry Brown revealed the state’s 2017-2018 state budget in January, which takes revenue from Prop 56, or the Tobacco Tax, that was meant to produce reimbursement dollars for Medi-Cal providers and places it into the general fund – $1.2 billion in total.

Denham has stressed the Valley’s need for doctors, telling his constituents it is in the area’s doctor shortage that their fears should be placed, rather than in House Republicans who want to strip away the Affordable Care Act.

Following the AHCA vote in May, Denham stated that while coverage in the Valley had in fact expanded thanks to the ACA, the access issues that existed before Barack Obama’s healthcare plan only worsened with the expanded coverage. At his town hall event in April, he steered questions away from what his vote would on the AHCA and geared them toward his plans to combat the area’s shortage of doctor by expanding local residency programs and improving Medicaid reimbursement rates.