Dothan Pediatric Services established a temporary satellite location in Ozark, AL, to serve locals who had recently lost their main resource for pediatric care. Servicing around 40 to 60 patients a day, the clinic was a success and had planned to build a $1.3 million permanent location were under way.
However, those plans came to a halt when the Alabama legislature voted to approve a fund with $85 million less for Medicaid, which meant possible cuts to physician reimbursement. Fears that both locations would not be able to sustain due to limited resources began to set in.
Lawmakers only approved $700 million from the General Fund for Medicaid next year instead of the expected $785 million. That extra $85 million is still needed in order to maintain services in the program, according to Gov. Robert Bentley. Hearings for the general fund budget committees for both the House and Senate began on April 20.
“Our practice is about 50% Medicaid,” said Dr. Michael Ramsey, a physician at the clinic. “We worried about the financial risk of that.”
Although the temporary clinic remains open, its future depends on the final decisions made in the coming months about the Medicaid program.
If lawmakers in Alabama continue with their plan not to fully fund the health care program, hundreds of doctors’ offices across the state will be forced to refuse most Medicaid patients and reduce their staff. This would include new patients and those from certain geographic areas.
According to Dr. Eric Tyler of the Pediatric Associates in Alexander City, potential cuts would be “catastrophic” to an already thinly stretched healthcare network, especially in rural areas of the state where many hospitals have already closed.
Seeing as how the average urgent care patient pays an insurance copay between $35 to $55, this would greatly impact those who have Medicaid and need care. More than 500,000 children on the program and even more across the state would potentially be affected if the bill is not changed.
“Most of these kids are living on the fringe and if you take away their health care you doom them to a much more stressful existence,” said Dr. Cathy Wood, of Partners in Pediatrics in Montgomery and president of the Alabama Chapter-American Academy of Pediatrics. “These children need homes for their medical care. They don’t need to go emergency rooms.”