The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

July 22, 2013

Doctor dearth

State must be able to attract enough doctors to serve population

— When Medicaid is expanded next year, some fear there may not be enough doctors in West Virginia to care for its patients.

They’re probably correct.

In fact, there are many that believe there is already a shortage of doctors in our state.

The way it’s set up now, this will only exacerbate the problem.

Evan Jenkins, executive director of the West Virginia State Medical Association, recently suggested that most doctors who accept Medicaid limit the number of patients they see, which will make it difficult for low-income patients to find a primary care physician.

That’s a huge problem in a state that is aging and among the most dependent on services such as Medicaid.

If the prediction of an increased doctor shortage comes about, and there’s every reason to think that it’s right on the button, the health of our citizens will suffer.

More incentives must be explored to entice doctors to locate here or to stay here following medical school.

Medicaid reimbursements paid to doctors are less than those paid by private health care insurance or Medicare. Jenkins warned: “I’m not aware of any medical practice that could survive financially, solely on a Medicaid patient population. There’s only so many hours in the day and so many patients you can see.”

Our state faces an October deadline to have a Medicaid expansion plan in place under the federal Affordable Care Act. A 600-page document, containing rules from the federal government, was released earlier this month.

It gives an outline on how to proceed with expansion.

While expansion of health care is generally great news, without enough doctors to meet the need, any benefit will be slow to be realized.

Our hope is that a plan to help West Virginia take care of its citizens will be implemented — and soon.

Because without a solid plan, especially one that will draw and keep doctors in our state, we’re no better off than before expansion.