California’s UC Davis Health increases specialty care access for Medi-Cal patients


Hannah Saunders


Under a new partnership announced between UC Davis Health and WellSpace Health on Friday, Medi-Cal beneficiaries will have greater access to specialty care in Sacramento. The new program, Specialty Connect, places UC Davis Health providers into WellSpace Health’s Oak Park Community Health Center, located at 3415 Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, to provide high-quality specialty care to those who most need it and can least afford it.

“We’ve listened to patients, and we’ve learned they’d rather access their healthcare conveniently, in locations closer to home,” said UC Davis Health CEO David Lubarsky. “This is how we increase access to specialty care. Our goal is to help people—no matter their circumstances—to lead healthy lives in the most accessible, advanced, and convenient ways possible.”


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About one third of patients at UC Davis Health facilities are Medi-Cal beneficiaries, and while they usually have many choices for primary care physicians throughout the state, they struggle to find physicians for specialty care due to low reimbursement rates.

The Specialty Connect program launched earlier this month with UC Davis Health rheumatologist, Thomas Abel. Rheumatologists focus on diagnosing and treating diseases that affect muscles, bones, joints, ligaments, and tendons. Medi-Cal beneficiaries seeking rheumatology care often wait for weeks to receive treatment, or travel long distances to see a doctor. 

“I believe we have a responsibility to deliver specialty care to the local community that is underserved and in need, and the collaboration with WellSpace Health provides this service,” Abel said. “As a rheumatologist, I am a specialist in medical conditions such as arthritis and inflammatory diseases that can affect many systems of the body.”

While rheumatology is the first specialty care offered under the new program, there are plans underway to bring additional high-demand specialty services, which may include pulmonology, gastroenterology, and pediatric subspecialties. 

UC Davis Health providers at the county’s health center come from internal medicine, family and community medicine, pediatrics, behavioral health departments, and the Betty Irene Moore School of Nursing. Specialty care provided to Medi-Cal beneficiaries at the Sacramento County Primary Care Center include women’s health, rheumatology, cardiology, nephrology, sports medicine, behavioral health, and developmental behavioral pediatrics. 

Medi-Cal beneficiaries are provided specialties at medical center campuses and clinics in the community. The Medi-Cal system also assigns providers to work in several Federally Qualified Health Centers (FQHCs), where tens of thousands of Sacramento Medi-Cal patients already receive care. WellSpace Health is the region’s largest FQHC and serves more than 1,400 patients daily across more than 30 centers in Sacramento, Placer, and Amador counties.

In addition to WellSpace Health, any Medi-Cal patients and patients of the seven FQHCs, including Eric Health, Health and Life Organization (HALO), One Community Health, Peach Tree Health, Sacramento County Primary Care Clinic, and Sacramento Native American Health Center, may be referred to Specialty Connect. 

“We’re talking about building subspecialty healthcare that is fully funded for the future for taking care of our members,” Lubarsky said. “It’s an amazing model.”