- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 2, 2015

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (AP) - Thousands of Californians rallied outside the state Capitol Tuesday to call on Gov. Jerry Brown to increase funding for Medi-Cal, the state’s health insurance program for the poor.

Labor unions and doctors who organized the rally said improving health care should be a priority as the Legislature prepares to dig into Brown’s proposed $115 billion budget next week.

In 2011, California cut the payment rates for health care providers who serve Medi-Cal patients by 10 percent. Now, providers and patients are calling for an end to austerity as the state economy recovers, arguing that the number of participating doctors continues to drop, driving up wait times.

Emily Abila, 28, of Cathedral City, said she couldn’t find a doctor to treat her seizures for six months, leaving her unable to drive or work.

“It shouldn’t take someone months to get basic care, or to have to go to the ER just to see a primary care doctor because nobody will accept Medi-Cal,” Abila said in an interview at the rally.

Dr. Luther Cobb, president of the California Medical Association, said income has fallen by half at his Eureka practice as he chooses to accept more Medi-Cal patients.

Brown has resisted calls to raise reimbursements in the past. His proposed 2015-16 budget - which lawmakers have until June 15 to take up - includes $18 billion in state funding for the joint state-federal program.

H.D. Palmer, a spokesman for the California Department of Finance, said that includes a $350 million increase in Medi-Cal spending over the previous year, with funding going to targeted areas including pediatric dental and in-network care.

But to back a blanket rate increase, Palmer said the Democratic governor will need to see proof that increasing reimbursement rates would in turn increase the number of doctors available to Medi-Cal patients.

Since the federal health care overhaul, Medi-Cal has added more than 2.7 million enrollees, and the program now covers more than 12 million people, or nearly a third of Californians.

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