TX Health Care Industry Watches Austin for Possible Medicaid Cuts

The Texas Medical Association held its annual meeting this past weekend in Houston. More than 1,000 physicians from all over the state gathered here for continuing education and updates on health policy. As KUHF Health Science and Technology reporter Carrie Feibel found, the doctors are keeping an anxious eye on the budget process in Austin.

When the doctors met, the Texas House and Senate were still hashing out their budget differences.

But whatever the final amount, doctors expect a Medicaid cut.

Dr. Dan McCoy, a Dallas dermatologist, tracks legislation for the doctor’s group. He says the state hasn’t raised Medicaid payments since 2003.

And this year the state could actually cut the reimbursement by ten percent.  

“Physician payments under Medicaid system in Texas are so low to begin with, access is so restricted, that you really can’t cut a lot of additional money out of physician payments. You can – but you will horribly restrict access to services.”

At this point, all the doctors can hope for is that the cut will come in somewhere under ten percent. 

Or if the Texas economy improves, the Legislature could come back with supplementary funding next year.

But McCoy says that one way or another the piper must be paid.

“It’s really easy to say that we’re not going to pay for this healthcare and or we’re going to change eligibility to determine who can get Medicaid and who can’t. But at the end of the day people still have babies, people still get sick. If somebody gets sick and shows up at the emergency room that care’s gonna have to be delivered, it’s going to have to be paid for and funded by the local community.”

That scenario makes local hospitals quite nervous.

Legislators are planning big cuts to Medicaid payments for hospitals as well.  

Harris County has 77 hospitals, the most of any county in the state.

John Hawkins is a senior vice president with the Texas Hospital Association. He says hospitals could be forced to do layoffs.

“The health care sector’s been one of the brighter spots in the economy –  kind of kept Texas a little bit better off than other areas and I think our concern would be if you cut too deep, it’s going to stall economic growth in communities.”

Dr. Vella Chancellor is an ob-gyn in Mansfield, near Fort Worth.

“I haven’t been able to accept Medicaid patients for a long time because they reimburse me less than 50 percent of my usual fees and my office overhead is 75 percent of my fee. I just can’t afford to stay in practice and take Medicaid.”

Chancellor says she expects even more doctors to follow her lead and drop out of the Medicaid program.

But that will leave the poor and uninsured with no medical home and they’ll inevitably turn to the ER for more costly care.

“It’s penny wise and pound foolish but when you don’t have the pennies to spend up front then you think you’ll deal with the pounds later.”

The legislative session ends May 30, and if the House and Senate can’t compromise on the budget by then, they’ll have to reconvene this summer in a special session.

 From the KUFH Health Science and Technology Desk, I’m Carrie Feibel.

 

 

Bio photo of Carrie Feibel

Carrie Feibel

Health & Science Reporter

Carrie Feibel is KUHF's health and science reporter. She comes to Houston Public Radio after ten years as a print reporter...