Medicaid: Another loss of access caused by Obamacare: When will it end?
The significant promotion of Obama’s Health Plan initiative was to provide greater access to health care for the poor and poorly covered Americans. California was at the forefront of placing their Medicaid recipients into HMOs. These patients were thrilled with having a health insurance card like most middle class American. They did not notice the GMS at the end of their ID numbers which they interpreted as still being part of the government Medical service. We didn’t either when we were asked to have 500 of these added to our panel. We have always had an average of 20 percent of our practice from Medicaid rolls as our fair contribution to the down and trodden since the reimbursement never equaled our cost of caring for them.
We were asked by our IPA (independent practice association) to accept 500 of these Medicaid/Welfare --recipients into the HMO portion of our practice, which was approximately half of our practice. We were promised improve reimbursement to the Medicare fee system for the first visit and a 10% improvement for the follow up visits. We had assumed that several of these would enter our practice on a weekly basis. It should not have been a problem with our single employee practice in the final years before retirement. She was my receptionist, publicists, patient scheduler, buyer/purchaser of all office supplies, inventory control officer, accounts manager, and my sole office manager for a very controlled practice. There were the usual phone calls from a half dozen patients to schedule appoints, reps to be scheduled for five minutes of my time, daily charts to be processed, and filed. She was busy.
The very first day after these 500 welfare patients were added to our obligations, we had 65 messages on the phone the next morning instead of the usual three or four. These messages came in at all hours of the day and night. It took her two hours to record all the messages and another three hours to process all the messages. This rate continued on a daily basis. It was then that we realized that these patients did not have jobs. But they all had cell phones and could call from any place they were, day or night. We found that most of these had not been to a physician for three to 15 years. So there were no significant records to be transferred most of the basic informational data which greatly reduces the initial consultation in the usual new patient. It takes about twice as much time to obtain a complete medical history from the medically unsophisticated. Just to record the dates of a patient’s operations takes seconds to record from a prior record or from the medically informed as it does from a medical illiterate who begins to answer such a question with let’s see, we were living in Oklahoma at the time, my eldest was just starting the first grade, and . . . . . the year of her cholecystectomy took five minutes instead of five seconds. So the first initial office consultation, examination, ordering lab testing, x-ray requests and prescription writing grew from 45 minutes to 75 minutes. But we got paid Medicare rates of $85. But when these patients returned for their office visits to review their status, response to drugs, go over their lab and x-ray data, make plans for their future care, the office call increased from 15 minutes to 25 minutes. But remember we would get a 10% boost in payment. It took a few months before the data came in and we noticed that the HMO vs Medicaid reimbursement for office visits had increased from $18 to $19.80 under the HMO coverage.
We also found out that our referral arrangements were no longer valid. Some of them noted the GMS at the end of their ID number and tracked them immediately and found the reimbursement was not significantly different than Medicaid and refused to see them. So these patients had far less access to care in their new arrangements than they had with Medicaid. The HMO had to find consultants for these patients in more remote areas. We felt uncomfortable to refer patients to consultants we didn’t know. This increases our liability also. When the HMO said that they could not find any consultants in one specialty that we needed for our patient in the Sacramento area, and gave us the name of a physician in San Francisco, about a hundred miles west of here, we were convinced that Obama’s promised of improved access in his plan was a blatant lie, we sorrowfully knew we had to make plans for withdrawal from this component of humanity.
These patients also gave us greater cause for concern. I always greeted these patients in the waiting room, welcomed them to my practice with a nice warm and friendly hand shake. One patient complained that I held her hand too long. Another asked me at the end of her exam, what could she do about her obesity, I pointed to her abdomen and gave my usual spiel (which is identical to the one Weight Watchers uses) that to maintain her weight of 180 pounds, she was eating 1800 calories. If she would reduce that by 500 calories a day, then in a 7 day week, she would lose 3500 calories which equals one pound. She complained to her HMO that I had called her a fatty, which then directs it to the State Department of Health Services, and hours can be spent on clearing this complaint that never happened. The state feels they need to pacify their “members” and makes such recommendations as “we have advise your doctor to take a course in sensitivity training” or take a course on “HIPAA Compliance.” Such little items on an evaluation form can cause great jeopardy to one’s license and we knew we had to make changes.
We also have completed 40-years of hospital and critical care pulmonary medicine practice having had as many as ten patients on life support in several hospitals at the same time. About five years ago, we moved our office into suburban Sacramento in Carmichael and continued with an ambulatory practice. This was reasonable since the hospitals had all established hospitalists to take care of inpatients. This has been common practice for decades for most physicians. However, our IPA and HMO were so desperate to become an Accountable Care Organization under Obamacare, that they used force to place patients. We were threatened to accept a patient on a gurney. We tried to reason with the HMO that such patients do not belong in an ambulatory care setting, but in a practice that saw hospital patients on a regular basis.
And so after six months, when my one person office staff gave me notice, I had to give my IPA notice that we had to withdraw from the remainder of the 500 welfare patients and extended to the President our apologies that his plan was not working. Their access to care was far worse despite our valiant attempts to improve it, they took more than twice as much professional time to deliver less than a quality of care that they did not understand and generally did not appreciate, that their hostility to my services were hazardous to my professional health, and the reimbursement for our professional care was less than their cost to me.
We should have followed the practice of Sandy Marcus, MD, President of the Physician’s Union, who accepted welfare as 10 percent of his practice, but never added the cost of billing and general harassment from Medicaid which he felt would exceed the 10% contribution to welfare by seeing these patient free.
So we decided it was good policy to see our long term welfare patients, which are 20% of our practice, avoid the cost of billing and make it a true charity. As long as physicians accept any welfare payments, no one recognizes our work. By eliminating accepting payment, the public recognizes this as charity, gains respect and profession status, with no loss in income.
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- Ronald Reagan