Health & Medicine

Why 19,000 Sacramento-area residents will get abrupt notice their doctor is changing

Molina Healthcare has abruptly reassigned roughly 19,000 patients to new doctors, effective Friday following a contract dispute with Golden Shore Medical Group, said J. Mario Molina, Golden Shore’s CEO and owner, whose company cared for mostly Medi-Cal patients.

Molina said that Golden Shore would complete the sale and transfer of its local clinics Thursday to Sacramento-based WellSpace Health. Molina said he had hoped the managed-care insurer would rescind its request to transfer patients since it already does business with WellSpace.

“It’s going to be very disruptive and confusing to the patients, but we did successfully transfer ownership of those clinics to WellSpace,” Molina said. “We did what we said we were going to do, and had Molina cooperated, a lot of confusion could have been avoided.”

Molina Healthcare did not respond to a request for comment. Molina was its CEO until he was fired in 2017.

WellSpace has roughly 700 employees who serve Medicare, Medi-Cal and uninsured patients at 20 federally qualified health centers in Folsom, Galt, Jackson, North Highlands, Roseville and Sacramento. It will acquire the equipment and furniture at Golden Shore’s three local clinics and plans to maintain most of the company’s 77 local employees.

So-called FQHC’s generally serve all patients regardless of their ability to pay, and in return, the federal government provides higher payments to these organizations than it would to a private physician group. In addition to a cash grant, their costs for treating Medi-Cal patients are reimbursed, and, if they meet certain requirements, their employees may be considered immune from personal liability in malpractice claims.

WellSpace’s chief executive officer, Jonathan Porteus, said that he felt all parties tried very hard to get everything completed in a timely fashion, but that time ran out.

“The anticipated transition of patients at the Golden Shore clinics really came very quickly, and it has been set for Feb. 1,” he said. “We worked closely to establish continuity. “We’ve been able to take over those clinics, and we’ll have them open and running for the existing patients. I almost rang you and told you it was going to be off, but we were able to work it out and transition those clinics.”

Molina Healthcare has sent letters to patients notifying them of their new doctors. However, Molina said that, in his experience, only about a third of patients will read the communications. Many letters are misdirected to the wrong addresses, he said, and patients don’t always open the notifications.

“We’re guessing that maybe a third of the patients will be notified that their doctor has been changed,” Molina said. “Probably two-thirds of them won’t know. Many of them will come back to the clinics because that’s where they’ve been going for many years. When they present, they’ll be given the option of being seen at the clinic and continuing their care there or going to whoever Molina has assigned them.”

Under the law, Medi-Cal patients always have the right to choose their doctor and to choose their health plan, said Molina, whose father founded Molina Healthcare in 1980. The younger Molina served as chief executive of the managed-care company from 1996 until 2017.

Based in Long Beach, Molina Healthcare had operated clinics at one point but decided to exit that aspect of the business in 2017, Molina said, so he exercised his contractual right to purchase the company’s California clinics. Golden Shore has struggled to gain its financial footing since Molina took over in January 2018, according to records at the Department of Managed Health Care, where regulators said it had not complied with solvency criteria and put it on a corrective action plan.

Golden Shore, based in South Pasadena, had 16 clinics statewide serving roughly 80,000 Medi-Cal patients, most of them in Southern California where Molina Healthcare got its start. The Molinas began opening clinics in the Sacramento region in 1992.

Molina said he had been in discussions with AltaMed Health Services to acquire its clinics in the south, but those discussions fell through. He said a federally qualified health center called The Children’s Clinic will take over two facilities in Long Beach on Friday, and he’s in discussions with other organizations to buy his other clinics later this month.

Molina said he was pleased to have such a cooperative partner in WellSpace: “They’re a very efficient organization. I was really impressed with that. They share a mission in common with us of service to low-income patients. I was very happy we picked them.”

In the Sacramento region, WellSpace will continue operating the Golden Shore clinics at 7777 Sunrise Blvd. in Citrus Heights and 3946 Norwood Ave. in north Sacramento. It will relocate the staff and equipment at Golden Shore’s South Sacramento clinic, 7215 55th St., to an expanded WellSpace clinic, the nearby South Valley Community Health Center, at 8233 E. Stockton Blvd.

“We added 15 exam rooms there over the fall and got everything lined up to open it Feb. 1,” Porteus said. “There’s also an immediate care center there that will offer walk-in care 16 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

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