Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Help Us Take Care of Our Patients

Dr. Cardenas, seated left, advocates for patients at an interim meeting for the
House Border & Intergovernmental Affairs Committee
A great society is judged on how it takes care of its elderly and children, TMA Board of Trustees member Carlos Cardenas, MD, told members of the House Border and Intergovernmental Affairs Committee.

Unfortunately, a state policy implemented in January is harming some of the state’s most vulnerable patients. Texas Medicaid reduced what it pays physicians who treat dual-eligible patients by more than 20 percent. “Dual-eligible” patients are low-income seniors and people with disabilities who qualify for both Medicare and Medicaid. In Texas, there are almost 465,000 dual-eligible patients who are among the sickest and most vulnerable people in our state.

“I can tell you firsthand that these cuts have created a medical emergency for thousands of dual-eligible Texans and the physicians who care for them,” said Dr. Cardenas. “No physician practice can absorb a 20-percent cut, especially now when Medicare threatens to cut our payments almost 30 percent Jan. 1, 2013.

“The policy change basically penalizes physicians who care for the sickest and frailest Medicare patients in the state,” Dr. Cardenas continued. “One of my colleagues, Javier Saenz, MD, from La Joya is struggling to keep his practice open.”

In addition to the 20-percent budget cut, Dr. Saenz and other doctors’ payments were 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. And, he’s not alone. TMA has heard similar stories from physicians from Lubbock to Nacogdoches, El Paso to Brownsville, and Houston.

“These cuts also have hurt our ability to recruit physicians in the Valley,” said Dr. Cardenas. In fact, Dr. Saenz, who runs his own practice ─ and has for more than 26 years ─ fears his own son won’t be able to join his practice after finishing his medical degree.

Dr. Cardenas asked lawmakers to mitigate the budget cut so physicians can continue to care for Texas’ elderly — and often sickest — patients. “Relief for these patients and their physicians cannot happen too soon,” he added.

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