JACKSON, Miss. — Fewer than half of Mississippi's primary care doctors are taking new Medicaid patients, Mississippi State University researchers say.
The state has fewer primary care doctors per capita than any other state to begin with — one for every 1,463 citizens, The Clarion-Ledger reported.
Researchers posing as new patients called doctors' offices, reaching 580 of the 678 individual and group practice offices in Mississippi, MSU social science professor Ronald Cossman said.
He says only 47 percent of those identified as core primary care doctors agreed to take new patients insured by Medicaid, while 75 percent agreed to take new patients with private insurance.
He said he had expected a difference, but not one that big.
Inability to find a doctor means people cannot get treatment for their medical problems and wind up in the emergency room, just as they might without any insurance.
"If I've got a Medicaid card, I simply postpone what I've got," he said. "Then I wind up back at the ER, just like I didn't have insurance, but I'm still clogging the ER."
For instance, he said, diabetes is treatable and often preventable. But those who cannot find doctors "can't get care and can't get preventative care. Now a patient winds up in a diabetic coma, and it was totally preventable."
His study was published last month in the Southern Medical Journal, published by the Southern Medical Association.
Cossman estimated that 20 percent to 30 percent of patients that Mississippi primary care doctors see are on Medicare or Medicaid. Red tape and low, slow reimbursement are reasons some don't want Medicaid patients, he said.
"A doctor's office may have to wait 90 days for Medicaid and Medicare to get reimbursed," he said.
Dr. Aaron Shirley, chairman of the Jackson Medical Mall, said Medicaid payments are sometimes "less than cost."
A routine visit to a primary care physician might run $110 for the average patient, he said. "Medicaid reimbursement for that same visit would be more like $70 or $75."
In contrast, a federally qualified health center would get $110, he said.