By Jane Meredith
It was, without question, a call to action. Millions in federal Medi-Cal funds would flow to California schools, the state auditor said in 2005, if districts filled out the paperwork to collect a little-known reimbursement for the cost of referring low-income students to the health care program.
Now, a decade later, California districts and school programs are caught in a fight with the federal government over $500 million in unpaid reimbursement claims.
From the start, the idea was to claim federal money that was there for the taking. “School districts need stronger encouragement to apply for federal dollars for Medi-Cal administrative activities,” said the state auditor’s report. Districts across the state had left $57 million in federal funds on the table in 2002-03, the report said, by not seeking reimbursement for Medi-Cal administrative tasks school staff were performing. A 2006 follow-up report, titled “No Dollar Left Behind” by the advocacy group Consumers Union, urged state legislators and the California Congressional delegation to help districts collect “their share of federal funds to which they are entitled.”