Feinstein Urges Safeguarding Medicaid on Visit to UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital

By Nina Bai

Dianne Feinstein walks with UCSF leaders on a hospital tour
Sen. Dianne Feinstein walks through the Intensive Care Nursery at UCSF Benioff Children's Hospital San Francisco, flanked by UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood (left) and Yao Sun, MD, PhD, medical director of the nursery. Photo by Noah Berger

Sen. Dianne Feinstein toured UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco on Friday, highlighting the importance of safeguarding Medicaid for the health of children and families across the nation.

At a press conference following the tour, Feinstein spoke about the dangers of the proposed Senate bill that includes nearly $800 billion in cuts to Medicaid, which expanded under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and would take away health care coverage for 22 million Americans by 2026.

Dianne Feinstein speaks at a podium
Sen. Dianne Feinstein speaks at a press conference on July 7. Photo by Noah Berger

UCSF Health cares for more hospital patients covered by Medi-Cal – California’s Medicaid program – than any other hospital in San Francisco. About 40 percent of UCSF Health patients overall are covered by Medi-Cal, including about half of patients at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital San Francisco and more than two-thirds of patients at UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland.

In addition, UCSF Health pays the uncompensated costs for hospital and physician services that are not covered by Medi-Cal, a number that totaled $289 million in 2016.

Academic medical centers like UCSF Health not only provide care, but also train the next generation of clinicians and support biomedical research that is essential to advancing new treatments.

“We are proud and honored to serve those patients and their families, but the threat to the financial underpinnings of the Medicaid program is indeed serious and a crisis for the country,” said UCSF Chancellor Sam Hawgood, MBBS. “Any further erosion to this program federally would put intense pressure on our ability to provide these services.”

Feinstein said the proposed Senate bill “breaks the back of Medicaid over time,” cutting $772 billion from the program over 10 years. The bill, she said, was written by 13 white men sitting in a back room, seen by no one else in either party, and without input from physicians or groups who would affected by the proposed cuts.

“As Americans become more familiar with the bill, as those of us in the Senate become more familiar with the bill, we see what this bill is. And it must be defeated,” Feinstein said.

Life-Saving Care for Children

Feinstein visited UCSF’s Intensive Care Nursery and met with three mothers of children who have depended on supplemental Medi-Cal to cover vital services not covered by private insurance.

Dianne Feinstein looks into a crib with a sick child
Sen. Dianne Feinstein visits with a child in the Intensive Care Nursery. Photo by Noah Berger
Dianne Feinstein sitting in a room with three mothers
Sen. Dianne Feinstein visits with three mothers of current or former UCSF patients to hear how Medi-Cal has impacted their lives. From left: Kristin Chaset, Nina Boyle and Sally McDonald. Photo by Noah Berger

“What the Children’s Hospitals has given to me is a look at the new sophisticated world of intensive medicine which has been so special in the life saving of youngsters all across this state,” she said.

Those services have included the home nursing care and home medical equipment that allowed Maggie McDonald, born with severe disabilities, to live for nearly 20 years. “We were able to keep her at home rather than in an institution that would have cost more,” said her mother, Sally McDonald.

Maggie was the first child in San Francisco to receive Medi-Cal coverage through the developmental disabilities waiver. “Getting Medi-Cal through the waiver saved us from financial ruin, saved money for the state of California, and most importantly, extended Maggie’s life,” Sally McDonald said.

Michael Anderson, MD, MBA, president of UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospitals, emphasized that Medicaid benefits the health care of every child. “Let me be very clear: The bill in front of the Senate today will harm all those children,” he said. “This place is a testament to how all kids benefit from healthy and robust children’s hospitals.”

Massive Impact for California and Beyond

UCSF Health CEO Mark Laret spoke about how the Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) has helped millions of previously uninsured patients get care. “Those of us on the frontline have struggled for years with the problem of uninsured patients struggling to find a way to get coverage” he said. “With the Affordable Care Act, we had added millions of people to Medi-Cal rolls in California.”

It’s a misconception that Medicaid is for “poor people and those on the fringes of society,” Laret said. In fact, Medicaid covers half of all births and many elderly living in nursing homes. “We are very convinced that more coverage does a better job and improves the care of people in this country. And in our view, there is no better investment our nation can make than in our people and the well-being of our people,” he said. 

Feinstein said the impact of the proposed cuts to Medicaid would be felt across the state, where one in three people – a total of 14 million – receive health care through Medicaid. This includes 5 million children, three in five nursing home residents, half of people with disabilities, half of the population of Fresno and 27 percent of residents in San Francisco.

“What I’m asking you to do is to get on your computer, get on your phone, and call as many Republicans as you can,” she said.

Asked why she called the Republican health care bill “immoral” in a tweet earlier that morning, Feinstein said: “Listen to these three women,” indicating the mothers who shared their stories. “They had the opportunity to see their children thrive for a period of time. They had an opportunity to live the lives they’ve had. That’s a very important thing.”

Watch the full press conference: