Thursday, May 3, 2012

Medical Emergency Continues for Medicare/Medicaid Patients

A state budget cut to patients who rely on Medicare and Medicaid for their care is devastating physician practices and putting patient care in jeopardy. Texas Medical Association (TMA) President C. Bruce Malone, MD, on Wednesday told Rio Grande Valley physicians that TMA continues to work on the problem.

“We hear your urgent stories and feel your and your patients’ pain,” said Dr. Malone during his second meeting with Valley area physicians about the medical emergency the cut is creating. He added that the cut is harming access to care across Texas.

Physicians are reeling from a 20-percent state budget cut for “dual-eligible” patients, which went into effect Jan. 1. Dual-eligible patients qualify for Medicare and are eligible for Medicaid assistance.

In a the video above, Alvin family physician Dale L. Messer, MD, says the cut is “squeezing” his medical practice of more than 40 years. He estimates about half of the people he sees are dual-eligible patients. More than 300 of his patients reside in nursing homes. With so many dual-eligible patients, he worries that eventually the cut will leave them without health care.

“I haven’t been paid for six months. We’ve taken my personal savings out because we were short [to pay his staff and office overhead],” said Dr. Messer. “I’m not saying it’s all due to that Medicaid cut, but it’s true.” He also has taken out loans to make payroll.

“I feel sorry for the older people,” he adds. “It isn’t just me that’s being affected, it’s all these older people — my patients.”

Javier Saenz, MD, from La Joya is struggling to keep his practice open to patients as well. In addition to the 20-percent budget cut, his and other doctors’ payments have been delayed because the state and federal government experienced computer glitches the first three months of the year. Dr. Saenz had to borrow money twice this year to keep his office open. TMA has heard similar stories from physicians from Lubbock to Nacogdoches, El Paso to Brownsville, and in Houston.

“We hope lawmakers take action to mitigate the cut so physicians can continue to care for Texas’ elderly — and often sickest — patients,” said Dr. Malone. Earlier this week, Texas Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Tom Suehs told lawmakers that “unintended consequences” have arisen from the cuts. He plans to propose a solution to state budget officials by the end of May.

Dr. Malone hopes so. “Relief for these physicians and patients cannot happen too soon,” he said.

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