Q&A: Assemblyman Devon Mathis, AD 26
Assemblyman Devon Mathis represents the 26th assembly district and serves as Vice-Chair of the Human Services and Agriculture committee. In this Q&A, reporter Emily Viles talks to Asm. Mathis about health care legislation he is currently keeping an eye on, the issue of access to care, and about his future legislative priorities.
EV: Tell me a bit about District 26. What are the demographics, what are some health challenges in the district and what are your constituents talking to you about?
The 26th District covers almost all of Tulare county, and Kern county as well, and we cover all of Inyo county. It is the third largest assembly district in the state, and encompasses half a million people which is larger than the state of Missouri.
EV: What are some challenges with having such a large district?
Every community has its own concerns. When you look at the rural communities that are considered county islands, or unincorporated towns, they don’t have a city council, and it is really hard to get them on the map. The nearby cities are not technically responsible for them and it is really hard at a county level where the decisions are really based on where the funding goes. I spend a lot of time working with nonprofits showing them the ropes of how to get on the agenda of these counties, how to draw more attention to the needs that they have, and also working with them at the state level with different associations to get help. We have done dental and eye clinics, health care clinics to bring resources to those areas so that the people there can get care.
We also do a lot of work focusing on access to health care. We hear this “health care for all,” and it sounds great– of course we all want healthy communities, but the problem comes down to access. And in rural California, frankly, the problem is access because you do not have a whole bunch of doctors and the doctors that we do have are aging out.
EV: Do you think that telemedicine is helping with the issue of access in your district?
Telemedicine is a vital piece, but it only works if you have rural broadband. Until rural broadband and the end of the line user gets taken care of–and I have worked on legislation to do that–until it is fully implemented in rural areas, we are still going to have issues in our far outreaching areas, and foothill communities.
EV: Switching gears, what are some of the main challenges being a Republican legislator in an overwhelmingly Democratic state? Is it more difficult to get legislation across the finish line?
I always team up with other members from across the aisle. The partisan divide creates what is known as an “author problem,” basically the guy is from the wrong party. I have good relationships across the aisle that I have worked on for five years so I do not have as many of those problems. But, what you see is that party leadership will make a decision to kill any relevant Republican bills, and what they will do is referred to as a “gut and amend,” and they will steal those bills for the targets on the other side. What I do to avoid that is, I partner with legislators on the opposite side with similar issues to those in my district and we will either joint author it, or they will be the headliner and my team will do a lot of the work. That way the Democrat is on the front, so that when people look to kill the bill they will see one of their favorite Democrats first, and then my name is after it–it is a partnership.
EV: How would you describe the session in terms of health care? Are there any standout bills that you are keeping an eye on?
I am working on a bill that is very important because it deals with Medical reimbursements. Let’s say in Tulare county where we are over 56% Medical, what happens is that a clinic or doctor that takes Medical patients, the state has one year to reimburse you. So, you pay for everything up front and then the state takes up to a year to pay you back. Think about running a business when you know you are not going to get paid for a year.
The bill is AB 515.
EV: Where is the bill in the process?
It is over on the Senate side. It has made it out of the Senate Committee on health.
EV: Were there any amendments out of committee? Can you expand on what the bill specifically does?
No. What is happening is that when the state reimburses those doctors and clinics at the end of the year, they will over-reimburse you. They then charge interest on the amount that they overpaid you. They overpay so that the departments make money.
What AB 515 does is it says, “you can’t charge them incredible amounts of interest to pay you back for your mistake.”
EV: Are there any other bills that you are still pushing through besides AB 515?
I have other bills that I am pushing through, but nothing really germane to the health care field.
EV: What about in relation to veterans issues? I know you serve on the committee as well and have sponsored veteran legislation in the past.
I have a safe-harbor agreement extension that I am working on with Senator Bill Dodd, and then I have the California Dairy Bill that brings all state regulations to make all California regulations on par with the federal government.
EV: What other health care bills should I be keeping my eye on in your opinion?
Obviously the bill that has already been signed granting health insurance to undocumented individuals all the way up to age 26.
EV: Did you support that bill?
I did not because I think the fact is that we have elderly populations, veterans, kids with disabilities that are not being fully funded. I think until we fixed the funding to ensure that they are getting all the treatment that they need, and until we fix the access problem…right now the average wait time to take your child to the pediatrician is up to 4 weeks to get an appointment. If it is taking us 4 weeks for primary care, and yet we are going to flood the market, but we do not have enough providers or specialty clinics, we are not taking care of our disabled and elderly, but we are going to increase it to non-citizens. I do not have a problem with doing that, but we need to get our ducks in a row first.
I am all for safe and healthy communities, but we have to ensure that the families that are paying into this and the families that are citizens are getting care as well.
This interview was edited for length and clarity.