Medicaid caseload up, but services not easy to find

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Capital News Service
LANSING—Many Medicaid recipients in Michigan are wondering whether there are enough health care providers to help them, experts say.
That’s important because as the economy struggles, many people are losing their health benefits as they lose their jobs.
Sharon Parks, director of the Michigan League of Human Services, said the use of Medicaid is increasing statewide, including the northern Lower Peninsula. The league is a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy organization that advocates on behalf of low-income residents.
The number of recipients rose from 1,296,600 in the second quarter of 2009 to 1, 421, 939 in the same period in 2010, Parks said.
In Cheboygan County, the number rose from 4,726 to 4,916. In Grand Traverse County, it rose from 11,689 to 12,318.
Meanwhile, reimbursement rates for health providers have dropped and many don’t accept Medicaid patients, Parks added.
She said cutbacks in public services are playing out in a lot of ways.
Tracey Shepard, public relations coordinator of the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, sees a drop in the availability of participating health care providers.
Shepard said, “Funding for Medicaid hospital patient care has been slashed by nearly $978 million since 1996.”
In 2008, Medicaid payment shortfalls to hospitals totaled $706 million, largely because of the program’s skyrocketing caseload, Shepard said.
She said while the caseload has increased by 60 percent since 1999, it is expected to grow even more rapidly as the state’s economy continues to falter.
Shepard said the number of uninsured patients is rising, with more than 1.15 million, or nearly 12 percent, of residents without health insurance.
Because Medicaid doesn’t cover the full cost of care and many physicians say that they can no longer afford to treat the program’s recipients, most uninsured and Medicaid patients turn to the most expensive way possible–through the doors of hospital emergency rooms, Shepard said.
“The current program is underfunded and unsustainable, leaving some physicians having to make difficult choices about keeping their doors open,” said Sheri Greenhoe, director of marketing communications and media at the Michigan State Medical Society.
Shepard said hospitals continue to fulfill commitments to their communities, despite the fact that uncompensated care is rising while reimbursements plunge.
Greenhoe said the growth of the program will continue to make Medicaid a central component of state government spending. The caseload is anticipated to exceed two million recipients within the next two years.
Greenhoe said Medical Society physicians are ready to work with policymakers to find sustainable solutions.
How many physicians accept these patients?
“There is not a set number of physicians that are willing to accept Medicaid patients. People are required to have a Medicaid HMO which assists them in finding physicians to help them,” said James McCurtis, public information officer at the Department of Community Health.
© 2010, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.

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