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Bill aims to make it easier for community clinics to help disaster victims

Michael and Vonea McQuillam stand beside the ruins of their Ventura home on Dec. 5, 2017. It was destroyed by the Thomas fire. Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

In the wake of last year's historically devastating wildfires, several state legislators have introduced a bill that would make it easier for community health clinics to help those affected by natural disasters.

Currently, community health centers can’t bill Medi-Cal for services they provide outside of their brick-and-mortar clinics. AB 2576 would change that anytime the governor declares an emergency.

The measure, co-sponsored by a group of lawmakers representing areas affected by last fall's northern California fires, would make several changes to laws governing clinics in declared emergency zones:

The bill's co-authors are Assemblymembers Cecilia Aguiar-Curry (D-Winters), Jim Wood (D-Healdsburg) and Marc Levine (D-Marin), and Senators Bill Dodd (D-Napa) and Mike McGuire (D-Healdsburg). 

"This bill comes at an opportune time for many reasons," Aguiar-Curry said. "People want to make sure that people have access to health care; they want to make sure that when we have catastrophic events that people are covered."

Her office pointed out that the wildfires destroyed a large community health center in Santa Rosa that was the medical home for 24,000 people.

"We don’t often think about health centers as health care first responders," said Carmela Castellano-Garcia, CEO of CaliforniaHealth+ Advocates. "Even though health centers themselves were impacted by the fires, California’s community health centers remained true to their mission to serve their community and remained on the front lines of this disaster to continue to treat their established patients as well as fire evacuees."