Menu Close

California counties, health insurance plans, community clinics, and a major national health care labor union are lining up against a controversial deal to grant HMO giant Kaiser Permanente a no-bid statewide Medi-Cal contract as the bill heads for its first legislative hearing Tuesday.

The deal, hammered out earlier this year in closed-door talks between Kaiser Permanente and Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office and first reported by KHN, would allow KP to operate Medi-Cal plans in at least 32 counties without having to bid for the contracts. Medi-Cal’s other eight commercial health plans must compete for their contracts.

Opponents of the KP proposal say they were blindsided by it after having spent months planning for big changes happening in Medi-Cal, which serves more than 14 million Californians. They say the deal would largely allow KP to continue picking the enrollees it wants, and they fear that would give it a healthier and less expensive patient population than other health plans.

Currently, the state allows KP to limit its Medi-Cal membership by accepting only those who have been its members in the recent past, primarily in employer-based or Affordable Care Act plans, and their immediate family members.

Kaiser Permanente said in an emailed statement that, under the terms of the deal, it would take more Medi-Cal patients with high needs and would collaborate with counties and other health plans on patient care.

The deal must win state legislative and federal approval. Opposition to the bill that would codify it, AB 2724, is being spearheaded by Local Health Plans of California, which represents the 16 local, publicly governed Medi-Cal plans that cover most of the 12 million Medi-Cal beneficiaries in managed care. The proposal would make many of them direct competitors of Kaiser Permanente, and they could lose hundreds of thousands of enrollees and millions of dollars in Medi-Cal revenue.

Among them are some of the state’s largest Medi-Cal health plans, including L.A. Care, by far the biggest, with 2.4 million members; and the Inland Empire Health Plan, with about 1.5 million members in San Bernardino and Riverside counties.

In addition, the boards of supervisors of 16 counties had registered their opposition as of April 15, as had the California State Association of Counties, at least two community clinic groups, and the National Union of Healthcare Workers, which represents thousands of KP clinicians.

The other commercial Medi-Cal plans are lying low as they bid for the state’s Medi-Cal business. The two largest, Health Net and Anthem Blue Cross, declined to comment.