Medicaid expansion brings primary care access to the forefront

The federal health reform law will usher at least seven million more Americans into Medicaid, and as states like Kentucky debate Medicaid expansion, policymakers are struggling with the question of whether there will even be enough primary care doctors to provide care, reports Michael Ollove of Stateline.

The country is already short of primary-care doctors. Although many primary-care physicians would take on new Medicare or privately-insured patients, only two out of three primary-care physicians surveyed in 2011 were willing to accept new Medicaid patients.

Why? Poor compensation is one reason; on average, Medicaid pays physicians 59 percent of the amount Medicare pays for primary care services, reports Ollove. Many Kentucky primary-care providers are also deterred by existing Medciaid problems. Providers report being burdened by a lack of or delayed payments from the new managed-care system.

Congress hopes to lure practitioners to primary care with a provision that raises primary-care providers’ Medicaid fees to Medicare levels. This is only a temporary fix, which went into effect at the beginning of the year and will remain in effect for two years, reports Ollove.

The impact in Kentucky remains uncertain. Lawrence Kissner, Kentucky’s commissioner for health and family services, says the state’s Medicaid pay raise in 2005 resulted in a 36 percent increase in the number of primary care doctors accepting Medicaid patients, reports Ollove. This is precisely what the health-law authors hope will happen now.

Kentucky is addressing the health coverage issue in other ways.  The General Assembly is considering a bill that would repeal a burdensome supervision requirement and encourage more independent physician assistants to remain in Kentucky to serve medically underserved areas.

Although Kentucky already allows nurse practitioners to practice independently, the Medicaid rate increase applies only to physicians who provide primary care services. It does not apply to nurse practitioners, who have been touted as a potential solution to the primary care problem and often provide care in underserved areas of the state. (Read more)

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