CHCF Center for Health Reporting | April 23, 2013
An employee finds that her company has reduced its coverage for workers. A low-income Californian puzzles over eligibility for Medi-Cal. Ask Emily sorts out the options.
In less than a year, roughly 1 million poor California residents will find themselves insured as part of Obamacare’s Medi-Cal expansion. While the insured patient pool will have grown, what about the physician pool? Will there be enough doctors to serve this new population? While state officials insist the provider pool is sufficient, doctors and advocates across California fear the answer is no.
Californian staff writer | February 4, 2013
State and federal officials think they’ve found a way to solve Kern County’s persistent shortage of doctors who serve its poor residents. Beginning this month, the federal government is funding a two-year increase in Medi-Cal rates as part of Obamacare. The increase in payments over the next two years to family physicians, internists and pediatricians for many primary care services will bring pay up to the level of Medicare, the federal health insurance program for people 65 and older. The rates are substantially higher than current Medi-Cal rates for the same services and are seen as an incentive for more physicians to serve Medi-Cal patients.
One year from now, tens of thousands of uninsured Kern County residents will celebrate the bounty of health reform – they will finally have a chance at health insurance. That’s when Medi-Cal, a publicly funded health program for low-income and disabled residents, will expand statewide, bringing the promise of coverage to perhaps 1 million more Californians. But many local doctors and health care leaders fear that the promise may be hollow. In Kern, they say, it’s already difficult for poor residents to find a doctor when they need one, and that doctors and clinics already are overwhelmed. It’s a situation that could worsen, they fear, with the addition of thousands of new patients.
Kern County resident Devin Vallejo, 13, has juvenile diabetes. Keeping it under control involves seeing a specialist several times a year, and that specialist is two hours away. His condition, and taking care of it, places enormous pressures on his low-income family.
While local experts decry the shortage of Medi-Cal doctors to serve Kern County’s low-income population, the state insists there are adequate numbers of providers. How many are there?
Experts and advocates offer their views of the availability of doctors in Kern County to provide for poor residents.