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California budget boosts payments for doctors, dentists
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 SACRAMENTO (AP) — Doctors and dentists who see low-income patients on Medi-Cal are getting a raise for the second year in a row under a budget deal approved by California lawmakers Monday.

The Assembly and Senate approved more than $2 billion for higher medical and dental payments and to forgive loans for doctors and dentists who spend much of their time treating Medi-Cal patients. Gov. Jerry Brown, who negotiated with lawmakers on the plan, is expected to sign it.

The money comes from a $2-per-pack tobacco tax increase approved by voters in 2016 and federal matching funds.

The plan passed the Legislature without debate following a contentious fight last year over how to spend the tobacco tax money. Brown wanted to use the money to cover normal growth in Medi-Cal costs, angering health care provider groups who funded the campaign to raise the tobacco tax and said voters were told the money would be used to boost provider payments.

Brown ultimately agreed to provide supplemental payments for preventive services and providers who see a large number of Med-Cal patients, but some lawmakers said the proposal reneged on promises to voters.

This year’s deal boosts payments even further and covers more preventive services.

One in three Californians is covered by Medi-Cal, which is jointly funded by the state and federal governments. Providers and health care advocates have long said that low payments for doctors and dentists discourage them from accepting Medi-Cal patients, leading to long wait times to see a physician in some areas.

Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat and physician who has pushed to boost provider payments, called the agreement “movement in the right direction.”

Meanwhile, lawmakers also approved spending $1.4 billion in cap-and-trade revenue for programs that fight climate change and improve air quality. They include incentives for clean vehicles, buses, trucks and port equipment; forest management efforts to reduce wildfires and equipment to reduce methane emission at dairy farms.