Stalled Budget Talks Force Closure of Two Valley Health Clinics

Two health clinics that serve poor patients were forced to close because the state has stopped paying many Medi-Cal providers until the Legislature agrees on the overdue budget.

Linda Roberts closed two rural health clinics she owns in Tipton and Pixley on Thursday, laying off 42 employees and leaving hundreds of low-income residents without medical care.

Other San Joaquin Valley clinics are struggling to stay open without weekly payments from the state. More clinics with slim reserves could be forced to shut down and lay off workers, operators say.

"This is affecting every health clinic up and down the Valley," said Dr. John Maffeo, CEO of nonprofit Sequoia Community Health Centers, which has seven clinics in the Fresno area. "Every day that this doesn't get resolved, we're hurting more and more."

The state had been paying Medi-Cal providers from a contingency fund, but the money has run out. The state missed its first payment of $228 million on Aug. 2 and missed another one for nearly $213 million Thursday, said Tony Cava, spokesman for the state Department of Health Care Services.

"We don't have a state budget, so we're not authorized to make those payments," Cava said.

The Legislature was supposed to pass a budget by June 15 and send it to the governor in time for the fiscal year starting July 1, but Senate Democrats and Republicans still haven't agreed on a spending plan.

(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)

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