Medi-Cal faces discrimination allegations from Latino advocates

Civil rights activists have called for a federal investigation of Medi-Cal, claiming that it discriminates against millions of low-income Latinos by denying them equal access to healthcare.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund says Medi-Cal reimburses doctors who are in the program so poorly that many of them won't treat enrollees, which leaves Latino beneficiaries with long treatment delays and denials for care. The coaltion filed a civil rights complaint with the Department of Health and Human Services,which asks that the federal government raise reimbursement rates in order to also raise the level of access that all people have to Medicare services in California.

Jennifer Kent, director of the California Department of Health Care Services, said that she could not comment on the specifics of the investigation, but she did say the department is closely monitoring patient access in the Medi-Cal program, according to Kaiser Health News. ​More than 12.5 million Californians receive healthcare through Medi-Cal, the state's version of Medicaid, and nearly two-thirds are Latino, KHN adds. 

The complaint also alleges violations of a federal law that requires that Medicaid programs offer enough doctors for patients, as well as a section of the Affordable Care Act that prohibits discrimination in health programs that receive federal funding.

Medi-Cal, however, has been focused on boosting health insurance coverage among the Latino population since late 2014. In July, activists praised the program for expanding coverage for approximately 170,000 poor immigrant children, though they said the state could do more to cover undocumented immigrants. Additionally, California saw an increase in healthcare coverage with Medi-Cal, with 68 percent of previously uninsured California residents gaining coverage.

But California Gov. Jerry Brown has been resistant to further increase spending on the massive program, which currently costs $91 billion a year, the L.A. Times notes.

To learn more:
- here's the group's announcement
- read the complaint
- here is the Kaiser Health News article
- read the Los Angeles Times article