Tuesday, March 16, 2010

The Health Care Crisis and Medicaid

All of the talk in Washington is currently on the President's health care plan, so the timing of this story in today's New York Times is interesting.

There are no winners in this story.

Excerpt here, with full link below:

March 15, 2010

With Medicaid Cuts, Doctors and Patients Drop Out

FLINT, Mich. — Carol Y. Vliet’s cancer returned with a fury last summer, the tumors metastasizing to her brain, liver, kidneys and throat.

As she began a punishing regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, Mrs. Vliet found a measure of comfort in her monthly appointments with her primary care physician, Dr. Saed J. Sahouri, who had been monitoring her health for nearly two years.

She was devastated, therefore, when Dr. Sahouri informed her a few months later that he could no longer see her because, like a growing number of doctors, he had stopped taking patients with Medicaid.

Dr. Sahouri said that his reimbursements from Medicaid were so low — often no more than $25 per office visit — that he was losing money every time a patient walked in his exam room.

The final insult, he said, came when Michigan cut those payments by 8 percent last year to help close a gaping budget shortfall.

“My office manager was telling me to do this for a long time, and I resisted,” Dr. Sahouri said. “But after a while you realize that we’re really losing money on seeing those patients, not even breaking even. We were starting to lose more and more money, month after month.”

It has not taken long for communities like Flint to feel the downstream effects of a nationwide torrent of state cuts to Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor and disabled. With states squeezing payments to providers even as the economy fuels explosive growth in enrollment, patients are finding it increasingly difficult to locate doctors and dentists who will accept their coverage. Inevitably, many defer care or wind up in hospital emergency rooms, which are required to take anyone in an urgent condition.

Mrs. Vliet, 53, who lives just outside Flint, has yet to find a replacement for Dr. Sahouri. “When you build a relationship, you want to stay with that doctor,” she said recently, her face gaunt from disease, and her head wrapped in a floral bandanna. “You don’t want to go from doctor to doctor to doctor and have strangers looking at you that don’t have a clue who you are.”

The inadequacy of Medicaid payments is severe enough that it has become a rare point of agreement in the health care debate between President Obama and Congressional Republicans. In a letter to Congress after their February health care meeting, Mr. Obama wrote that rates might need to rise if Democrats achieved their goal of extending Medicaid eligibility to 15 million uninsured Americans.

In 2008, Medicaid reimbursements averaged only 72 percent of the rates paid by Medicare, which are themselves typically well below those of commercial insurers, according to the Urban Institute, a research group. At 63 percent, Michigan had the sixth-lowest rate in the country, even before the recent cuts.

In Flint, Dr. Nita M. Kulkarni, an obstetrician, receives $29.42 from Medicaid for a visit that would bill $69.63 from Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan. She receives $842.16 from Medicaid for a Caesarean delivery, compared with $1,393.31 from Blue Cross.

If she takes too many Medicaid patients, she said, she cannot afford overhead expenses like staff salaries, the office mortgage and malpractice insurance that will run $42,800 this year. She also said she feared being sued by Medicaid patients because they might be at higher risk for problem pregnancies, because of underlying health problems.



http://www.nytimes.com/2010/03/16/health/policy/16medicaid.html?hpw