off the charts
POLICY INSIGHT
BEYOND THE NUMBERS

Medicaid Primary Care Payment Rate Bump Is Worth Extending

An increase in Medicaid primary care payment rates that was included in health reform is scheduled to expire at the end of this year.  But with the need for cost-effective Medicaid primary care rising across the country, the current physician rates should be maintained — and expanded to additional providers — as the Obama Administration and a group of hospitals and doctors have recommended. Medicaid enrollment has risen by 6 million since October, according to the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, and total enrollment now tops 65 million.  With increased enrollment comes increased need for providers, particularly those providing primary care.  Connecting patients to primary care makes it more likely that they will receive the preventive care and other services to remain healthy and makes it less likely that they will later have to visit the emergency room. Health reform required states to pay for primary care services at the Medicare rate, which is typically higher than the Medicaid rate, for 2013 and 2014; the federal government picked up 100 percent of the cost of the increase over the state’s regular Medicaid rate for those years.  In boosting physicians’ rates, policymakers intended to increase the number of primary care providers participating in Medicaid in order to ensure access to primary care for Medicaid beneficiaries — both those newly eligible and those who were eligible before 2014.  In Connecticut, the number of primary care providers enrolled in Medicaid has more than doubled since January 2012 and state officials are pushing for an extension of the temporary increase. Twenty-one organizations representing physicians and hospitals recently wrote to Senate and House leaders to promote a two-year extension of the current payment rate.  The group also asked that policymakers extend the enhanced Medicaid rate to physicians practicing obstetrics and gynecology if their practices provide significant amounts of primary care.  The President’s budget included a one-year extension of the primary care rate increase that would also extend the enhanced rate to include physician assistants and nurse practitioners who provide primary care services.  Both the expansions of the payment increase to additional providers and an extension of the rate increase for at least another year deserve support.