Fri., April 8, 2011 12:15pm (EDT)

Doctors Fear Medicaid Reimbursement Cuts
By Jeanne Bonner
Updated: 3 years ago

ATLANTA  —  
There is already a shortage of doctors in rural areas. Advocates worry the additional cut to Medicaid reimbursement rates will slow recruitment efforts in those areas. (Photo: Georgia General Assembly).
There is already a shortage of doctors in rural areas. Advocates worry the additional cut to Medicaid reimbursement rates will slow recruitment efforts in those areas. (Photo: Georgia General Assembly).
Some Georgia doctors are girding themselves for another reduction in the Medicaid reimbursement rate. Lawmakers proposed the cut as part of the 2012 budget. Doctors worry it may further drive down their numbers from rural areas.

The proposal would cut doctor reimbursement rates with patients on the government-run healthcare program by a half of a percent. The reduction would come on top of other cuts in the past 10 years. Medicaid serves low-income children, senior citizens and people with disabilities.

The Georgia Academy of Family Physicians says, many doctors might stop accepting Medicaid, reduce staff, delay hiring or close their practices as a result. Dr. Leonard Reeves, the academy’s chair, says this is especially so in rural areas, where doctors see higher numbers of Medicaid patients.

“Family physicians, primary care physicians, who are so rooted in their communities will more than likely stay there," Reeves said. "But new physicians will not go there, and you’re just going to see the shortage in the rural areas get worse.”

Separately in the budget, lawmakers plan to borrow $100 million from Medicaid to fund other items. Tim Sweeney, a healthcare analyst with the Georgia Budget and Policy Institute, said that may weaken the program's viability in the future. He said, paired with the half a percent reduction, the development is just one more blow to Medicaid.

“The importance of the half a percent cut can’t be seen in a vacuum," Sweeney said. "It’s not that we’re going from 100 percent of their costs to 99.5 percent of their costs. It’s really sort of the culmination of years and years of not being able to increase provider reimbursement rates.”

Some lawmakers say they know they can't continue raising Medicaid. They will have to pass the budget next week when the legislative session ends.