Doubts raised over promise of payout from doctors' tax

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Capital News Service
LANSING—A controversial doctors’ tax, which passed the House, wouldn’t guarantee that practitioners treating Medicaid patients will get as much money as proponents suggest, some experts say.
The bill outlines a system in which medical doctors and osteopathic physicians would pay a 3 percent tax on their gross revenue. A portion of that money would go back to eligible physicians as increased Medicaid reimbursements, while the rest would go into the state Treasury.
The proposal faces serious obstacles in the Senate.
Bobby Mukkamala, an ear, nose and throat specialist in Flint, said he isn’t convinced that the tax proceeds would be returned to Medicaid providers.
“I see Medicaid patients out of moral obligation, but it’s already a burden on my practice,” Mukkamala said. “They’re just going to use this money to plug a hole in the budget, and the doctors are going to have to deal with the consequences.”
That hole includes a shortfall in revenue for Promise Grant scholarships and revenue sharing to local governments. Some House members said a large portion of the new tax proceeds would be used for those purposes rather than Medicaid reimbursement.
Although most legislative Democrats argue that the state needs the new tax to care for uninsured and underinsured patients, many doctors worry that the money won’t come back to them.
“They might do what they did with the federal stimulus dollars for Medicaid. They’ll put that money into the Medicaid fund but then decrease the amount of Medicaid dollars in the general fund,” said Jessy Sielski, communications manager for the Michigan State Medical Society.
“Dozens of doctors have contacted us saying they’ll leave the state if this bill passes,” he said.
Several House Democrats voted against the tax, especially those in the medical field. Among them were Reps. Dian Slavens, D-Canton Township, who is a respiratory therapist and Lesia Liss, D-Warren, who is a nurse.
Rep. Jimmy Womack, D-Detroit, an anesthesiologist, initially opposed the tax but changed his vote after Speaker Andy Dillon, D-Redford Township, spoke with him at length.
“I recognize the need to take care of the poor people, but I don’t think taxing the professionals is the way to do that,” Womack said.
According to Sielski, several states, including Kentucky and West Virginia, tried similar tax plans without success.
Lansing family practice physician Shannon Wiggins doesn’t like the idea of a doctors’ tax either.
“The burden remains on the physician and it will further decrease the already declining interest in primary care,” Wiggins said.
The bill is pending in the Senate Health Policy Committee.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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