Cutting Medicaid is pound-foolishBy TIM KALICH,
The Mississippi Legislature is wrestling with a number of huge issues this year. Is there a better way to calculate funding for the state’s public schools? Should the state start a lottery to try to shore up its finances? Is it finally ready to start putting real money into repairing or replacing its deteriorating roads and bridges? What’s to be done about the shortage of teachers? What about the same with prison guards?
Add to that daunting list this one: When Mississippi reauthorizes its Medicaid program, what changes if any should it make?
One change it should not make is to further reduce the health-insurance program that presently covers one in every four residents — those who are poor or disabled, including most of the state’s nursing home population.
Yet, the chairman of the Senate Medicaid Committee, Brice Wiggins, has drafted a bill that would do just that. It would reduce reimbursement rates by another 5 percent for most health-care providers by lifting an exemption that had shielded them from a previous effort to reduce reimbursement rates.
If this happens, the hospitals and nursing homes might have no choice but to swallow the cut. However, doctors, who have been complaining for years that Medicaid reimbursements are less than the cost of providing the service, don’t have to. They can just stop treating Medicaid patients, as a growing number of them have.
If fewer doctors are willing to treat the poor, that means less access for the most vulnerable segment of this state’s population. Moreover, cutting Medicaid rates would most likely backfire and end up driving up the state’s costs. How so? If persons on Medicaid can’t find a primary doctor to treat them, they are more likely to just go to the emergency room, the most expensive place for medical care, even for minor ailments.
Instead of driving doctors to drop Medicaid patients, the state should be trying to encourage them to take more of them. You don’t do that by making the care more unprofitable than it already is.