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Medicaid cutbacks possible in state budget

Joy Haynes

Morgan Countian

 

Medicaid funding in Alabama may get a complete overhaul soon.

Chairman of the Alabama House budget committee Rep. Steve Clouse, R-Ozark, proposed a $156 million cut in funding for the program earlier this month after the budget committee rejected a cigarette tax increase that was crucial to the funding plan.

Clouse said he considers Medicaid the foundation of health care in Alabama and doesn’t support the cuts. His 23 percent reduction is considered his way to force legislators to make a decision about the future of Medicaid in the state. The suggested budget would cut the state’s Medicaid funding from $685 million to $529 million.

The state’s Medicaid system would not only lose its own funding but also the 2-for-1 federal funding for the proposed cuts.

These cuts would affect not only Medicaid patients but also Medicaid providers. Local family care physician Dr. Alan Walker weighed in on the possible situation.

“We’ve seen Medicaid cuts before, but nothing this dramatic before,” Walker said. “This sort of cut would decrease the amount of reimbursement physicians received for seeing Medicaid patients. I remember the days when we would get checks to 2 cents as reimbursement from Medicaid. We have also had monthly letters telling us what Medicaid owed us, but they all said we would be reimbursed as money was available.”

As long as Medicaid stays intact, nursing homes and hospitals should still get their regular reimbursement, with most of the cutbacks within physician reimbursement and prescriptions. Medicaid prescriptions might become limited or certain types of medication could be no longer covered.

“The nursing homes and hospitals get paid by Medicaid pretty well, so the biggest difference would be in the doctors’ offices and pharmacies,” Walker said. “We don’t have an overabundance of Medicaid patients, so it shouldn’t make too big of a difference for our office, but some of the more rural offices with high numbers of Medicaid patients might eventually have to close. What I foresee with these proposed cutbacks is a dramatic decrease in physicians who will accept

caid, forcing Medicaid patients to seek treatment from emergency rooms.

“There was a time when most doctors’ offices would have seen Medicaid patients for free, but the paperwork involved is such a major hassle that it takes a lot of extra time that wouldn’t make it feasible. Most offices already limit the number of Medicaid patients they will see, so I can imagine these proposed cuts would cause even more limitations to Medicaid providers.”

State Health Officer Don Williamson said the cutbacks could keep the state’s Medicaid program from complying with federal requirements,

ending the state program.

According to recent statistics, about 1 million Alabamians qualify for Medicaid service, and Medicaid covered 53 percent of the state’s births, 47 percent of health care coverage for children and 60 percent of nursing home residents.

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