Local congressman critical of state's use of tobacco tax revenue

Raul Ruiz highlights physician shortage in letter

PALM DESERT, Calif. - A Coachella Valley lawmaker drafted a letter co-signed by 37 other members of the California congressional delegation today urging the governor to use state tax revenues to address a statewide physician shortage.

   The letter by Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-Palm Desert, calls for money from the voter-approved Proposition 56 tobacco tax increase to be used for medical education programs, payments for health care services and treatment for Medi-Cal patients.

   Ruiz, a physician himself, refers to the physician shortage as a ``crisis'' in his letter and contends the budget redirects Prop 56 funds away from patient access to care and towards the general fund.

   ``We are concerned that your FY 2017-2018 state budget redirects Prop 56 revenues away from Graduate Medical Education programs intended to address California's physician shortages, as well as Medicaid payment increases intended to improve access to care for Medi-Cal patients,'' the letter read. 

``This threatens the success of California's Medicaid expansion at a time when we're fighting to sustain it against attempts by the (Trump) Administration to decrease Medicaid funding.''

   In a separate statement, Ruiz said portions of his district have ``only one physician per 9,000 residents, three times worse than the recommended standard. This is unacceptable.''

   ``I wrote to Governor Brown urging him to put the needs of patients first and fund the new Graduate Medical Education programs we need to adequately care for Californians and increase payments through Medi-Cal, so Medi-Cal patients don't have to struggle to see a physician. In fact, this is precisely how Californians indicated they want these funds used,'' Ruiz said. 

``This isn't a political issue; this is about standing up for patients and providing for the health and well-being of all Californians.''

   H.D. Palmer, deputy director for external affairs for the state's Department of Finance, said the governor's budget sets aside $1.2 billion for Medi-Cal and is ``wholly consistent with the proposition as voters approved it.''

   The budget does not propose using Prop 56 revenues for higher provider rates, something Ruiz laments in his letter, which identifies California Medicaid provider payment rates as 48th in the nation.

   Palmer said it would be up to the legislature to suggest where budget reductions could be made to pay for higher provider rates.

   Alterations to the budget could still be forthcoming in the governor's May revision, which is expected sometime in the next two weeks.


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