Oklahoma physician leaders vote to abandon Medicaid patients

Oklahoma State Medical Association urges doctors to mull leaving Medicaid over 25 percent rate cut

By Barbara Hoberock
Tulsa World, April 1, 2016

Oklahoma State Medical Association leaders have voted unanimously to urge members to consider dropping out of Medicaid.

The association’s executive committee took the unanimous vote on Wednesday following an announcement earlier in the week by the Oklahoma Health Care Authority that Medicaid rates could be cut by as much as 25 percent effective June 1.

For the current fiscal year, the state has seen a deepening revenue failure requiring state-appropriated agencies to make cuts.

“We are fully aware this will create an access-to-care crisis for rural residents, vulnerable seniors, the disabled and the nearly 60 percent of Oklahoma babies born under Medicaid,” said OSMA President Woody Jenkins. “But a 25 percent rate cut, combined with previous cuts that had already been made in recent years, will leave many of our members with little choice.”

He said the association in coming days will be offering guidance on its website for doctors on how to opt out of the Medicaid program.


KGOU Update:

The third part of the plan would restore the Medicaid reimbursement rate to 86.5 percent of Medicare. Earlier this week, the Oklahoma Health Care Authority proposed reducing the reimbursement rate to providers by 25 percent as a result of the estimated $1.3 billion general revenue shortfall in the upcoming fiscal year.



By Don McCanne, M.D.

One of the flaws in our fragmented, multi-payer system of financing health care is that low-income patients tend to be lumped into the Medicaid program. Since it is a welfare program serving individuals who do not command much political capital, politicians are more willing to use cuts in Medicaid to balance their budgets than cuts for programs designed to serve the general population such as Medicare and Social Security. What lessons can Oklahoma’s proposed 25 percent cut in Medicaid rates provide for us?

As a welfare program, Medicaid does remain chronically underfunded. As such, access problems occur because of a lack of willing providers since there is reluctance on the part of others to accept the lower Medicaid rates. But should the less fortunate members of society be relegated to a lower standard of health care, or should everyone have the equivalent access to essential health care services? That question has been answered by our politicians even if it was never asked.

That said, what response should organized medicine have to these cuts in Medicaid? Perhaps we should ask whom they perceive as being victimized here. The Oklahoma State Medical Association (OSMA) has recommended that all physicians drop out of the Medicaid program in order to protect themselves from underpayment for their services.

What about the patients otherwise qualified for Medicaid who need health care? OSMA has provided no recommendation. Do the physicians simply refuse to see those patients if they cannot pay cash for their services? Would some physicians agree to see them on a charitable basis at the risk of having their schedules swamped because too many others would continue to boycott the patients until their fee demands were met?

Although we can sympathize with physicians who are being requested to practice in a toxic environment because of unreasonable policy decisions made by the politicians, we can also be troubled by their abandonment of the needy patients who seem to be the real victims here. This is not unlike some members of Congress who have repeatedly voted to repeal the Affordable Care Act yet have offered no replacement to ensure that people can get the health care that they need.

We could replace the politicians who have refused to enact policies that would ensure health care for everyone. Physicians could also replace their medical association delegates with those who follow modern Hippocratic traditions: “I will remember that I remain a member of society, with special obligations to all my fellow human beings, those sound of mind and body as well as the infirm.”

What was it the OSMA president said? “We are fully aware this will create an access-to-care crisis for rural residents, vulnerable seniors, the disabled and the nearly 60 percent of Oklahoma babies born under Medicaid,” but they are left with little other choice than to abandon them. Really?


It appears that they may receive a reprieve with a new proposal from the state Medicaid agency, but that does not excuse them from the fact that they were willing to abandon their Medicaid patients.