Drug/Medi-Cal Proposal: Slash Treatment Access in Half

Press Release January 22, 2009
Media Contact

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli at (213) 291 4190 or John de Miranda at (619) 823 1152

According to Capitol insiders, some Republican legislators are pushing to end “optional services” under Drug/Medi-Cal. The proposal would pull $114 million from alcohol and other drug (AOD) treatment — or half of the state dollars spent on such services in the state each year. Advocates and people in recovery call on lawmakers to reject the short-sighted proposal and maintain AOD treatment funding.

John de Miranda, CEO of Stepping Stone a treatment and recovery program in San Diego, said, “Doing away with Drug/Medi-Cal would punish our neediest families. Waiting lists are already long and people aren’t getting the help they’re looking for. With addiction, we don’t have the luxury of not spending — but we do get to decide how we’re going to spend. The less we invest in treatment, the more we’ll be forced to pay for incarceration, hospitals and crime.”

Advocates warn that the proposed cut could end up costing taxpayers $800 million. That’s because, according to a 2005 study by Susan Ettner of UCLA’s David Geffen School of Medicine and School of Public Health, every dollar spent on treatment avoids $7 in costs. Drug/Medi-Cal cuts could also threaten federal matching dollars, thus doubling the direct adverse impact on treatment.

Margaret Dooley-Sammuli, deputy state director in Southern California with the Drug Policy Alliance, said “What’s worse is that cutting ‘optional services’, devastating as it would be to families, would end up making the state deficit worse not better. Reducing the number of people behind bars for minor drug offenses and ordering them to treatment instead would generate real savings in the short term and the long run.”

According to the State Controller, some $19 million in payments to counties as well as payments to direct service providers will be “deferred” until September. Those who cannot cover their own costs until then would be forced to close their doors.

The governor has proposed a nickel-a-drink alcohol tax increase. Though the treatment community is supportive, advocates warn that as long as the revenue is not linked to treatment funding, it cannot be counted on to fill a devastating Drug/Medi-Cal gap.

The California Medical Assistance Program — or Medi-Cal — provides health care services to welfare recipients and other qualified low-income persons (primarily families with children and the aged, blind, or disabled). The program is the state-administered federal Medicaid Program.

A young woman holds a sign that says "End the Drug War."

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