Fewer doctors willing to accept government-funded insurance plans

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In this June 1, 2012 file photo, dentist Dr. Francis Tham and dental assistant Latasha Johnson attend to Medicaid patient Pamela Scott at the Chicago Family Health Center in Chicago.

Photo Credit: The Associated Press

The number of Texas doctors willing to accept government-funded health insurance plans for the poor and the elderly is dropping dramatically amid complaints about low pay and red tape, showed a survey by the Texas Medical Association provided to The Associated Press Sunday before its Monday release.

Only 31 percent of Texas doctors said they were accepting new patients who rely on Medicaid, the health insurance program for the poor and disabled. In 2010, the last time the survey was taken, 42 percent of doctors accepted new Medicaid patients. The doctors’ reluctance to take on new Medicaid patients comes at a bad time, since the new federal health care law proposes adding 6 million additional people to the Texas Medicaid rolls with the intent of ensuring every U.S. citizen has access to health insurance. The state ranks last in the nation in terms of percentage of people insured, with 27 percent of Texans without any kind of insurance, according to a March Gallup poll.

Doctors complain that the Texas Medicaid program pays only half of the actual cost of most services, leaving them to absorb the losses. The Republican-controlled Legislature cut Medicaid reimbursements to doctors by a total of 2 percent in 2010 and 2011 and dramatically reduced payments for patients who qualify for both Medicaid and Medicare, the health care program for senior citizens.

“Every business has a breaking point, and physicians’ practices are no different,” said Dr. Michael Speer, president of the Texas Medical Association.

While the federally managed Medicare program pays better than state-controlled Medicaid, doctors found caring for those patients to be onerous because of the paperwork required.

“All the bureaucratic red tape and administrative burdens only serve to increase the cost of running a practice while diverting a physician’s attention away from patient care,” Speer said. “What’s lost in the health care debate is the simple fact that patients need a doctor when they get sick. And physicians want to take care of patients and not push endless reams of paper around our desk.”