Friday, Sept. 14, 2012 | 5:50 p.m.
An association of doctors and medical students is recommending the state expand its Medicaid program, which treats low-income people.
But the Nevada State Medical Association, with 2,000 members, also says the state should increase the fees paid to physicians who treat Medicaid patients.
The fee schedule for doctor reimbursement is based on a 2002 standard, and Larry Matheis, executive director of the association, said that "more and more doctors can't afford to take Medicaid patients."
Gov. Brian Sandoval and the 2013 Legislature will have to decide if Nevada should opt in to the federal program to provide more medical coverage for low-income families.
So far, Sandoval has not revealed whether the state will expand Medicaid. Mike Willden, director of Health and Human Services, estimated the Medicaid numbers would grow by nearly 120,000 in the first 10 months of 2013. But the federal government will be picking up the tab for these added patients.
There are currently 309,000 Nevadans receiving health care under Medicaid, with the state paying part of the cost.
The association, in a position paper issued Thursday, says Medicaid should be expanded under President Barack Obama's health care legislation.
But the association said Medicaid is currently "significantly underfunded" and the current fees paid doctors and hospitals to accept these patients except in emergencies.
Doctors are finding they cannot afford to treat Medicaid patients with cancer and heart diseases or the delivery of babies, Matheis said. But he doesn't have an estimate of how much money it would cost the state to up the payments to doctors.
Adding to the problem is the shortage of physicians in Nevada. Matheis said steps are being taken to recruit more doctors and to make better use of current resources.
While the federal government will pay the full cost for an expanded Medicaid program through 2016, the state will then have to share in the expenses of Medicaid costs. And there is no federal reimbursement for state administrative costs.
Adding to the problem is the federal government's intention to reduce the amount of money paid to states to reimburse hospitals for care of Medicaid patients. The $47.3 million that is now sent to Nevada would be reduced to $45.2 million in fiscal year 2014 and to $44.8 million the following year.
One of the decisions to be made by the governor and the Legislature is whether the state will make up the federal cutbacks.
Bill Welch, president of the Nevada Hospital Association, could not be reached for comment.