California doctors group opposes U.S. Senate’s healthcare plan

The state’s largest doctors group is opposing healthcare legislation being debated in the U.S. Senate this week, saying it would increase local healthcare costs and restrict access to care for elderly and low-income patients.

The California Medical Assn. represents more than 35,000 physicians, making it the second-largest state medical group in the country after Texas.

Its executive committee met last week to discuss the Senate legislation proposed last month by Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), also known as the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Association leaders plan to announce their opposition later this week before a vote is taken in the Senate, spokesman Andrew LaMar told The Times.

They join a handful of other state medical associations that have opposed the bill in recent weeks, including those in Florida, Georgia and Texas.

“The Senate bill came so short that we could not support it, even though we solidly support healthcare reform,” said Dr. Dev GnanaDev, medical director at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in San Bernardino, who also serves on the group’s executive committee.

Doctors are concerned that the Senate bill would shift Medicare funding from urban to rural areas, shift responsibility for Medicare oversight away from Congress by creating an independent Medicare commission and decrease Medicare reimbursement rates in the long term.

Medicare reimbursements would decrease 40% in coming years under the Senate bill, LaMar said. California doctors already contend with some of the lowest MediCal reimbursement rates in the nation, and although those would not change under the Senate bill, the pool of people eligible for coverage would increase, he said. Only about a third of California doctors currently accept MediCal, and GnanaDev said that would probably decrease under the Senate plan.

Healthcare legislation passed by the House would raise Medicare reimbursement rates to what LaMar said the association considers “a much more reasonable scale.”

However, the association has not endorsed the House bill, which was backed by doctors last month at the national convention of the American Medical Assn. in Houston. The AMA has not taken a position on the Senate bill, although it sent a letter to Reid on Tuesday noting that it opposes the same provisions that California doctors cited, among others.

“We continue to have serious concerns about certain provisions in the bill, and we look forward to working with you and your Senate colleagues to secure additional changes to promote stable and sound health system reforms,” wrote Dr. Michael Maves, the AMA’s executive vice president.

California Medical Assn. officials have made their position clear to Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.), LaMar said, and have been told that the senators are conveying their concerns to congressional leaders. Boxer supports the bill; Feinstein has not yet taken a position.