NEW ORLEANS, LA (WVUE) - A part of the state's budget deficit elimination plan has some local medical providers more than a little concerned.
They said if the budget cuts to health do not stop, some patients may end up with fewer health care provider options.
Dr. Floyd Buras is a longtime pediatrician in practice in Metairie. Many of his patients have Medicaid insurance.
"It's already at the point where the cost of providing the care is less than what they pay us," Buras said.
Still, he is bracing for more financial pain. Because of state government's latest money problems, the health department budget is being impacted, and to deal with that, nearly $613 million in payments to the managed care health plans will be delayed in 2017 for about three weeks, according to the health department.
"Medicaid no longer pays the provider directly from the state. The Medicaid is a contract with the Healthy Louisiana Plans. There's five of them, they pay the Healthy Louisiana Plans, and the Healthy Louisiana are then supposed to make the payments to the providers. After last year's rounds of budget cuts, I already cut staffs, cut payrolls - of course that affects the patients," Buras said.
Jeff Reynolds, undersecretary of the Louisiana Department of Health, told FOX 8 News they are hopeful the health plans can find a way to minimize the impact on actual health care providers, but he added there are no guarantees.
"The cuts to Medicaid affect our patients who need help the most. These are the most vulnerable patients and they're the patients who are going to be driven to the emergency rooms and actually increase the cost of health care," said Dr. Dean Yount, president of the Orleans Parish Medical Society.
The state said the delayed payments involve the entire Medicaid Program in Louisiana, including Medicaid Expansion, which gave nearly 400,000 additional adults in the state government funded health coverage.
"The goal of expanded health care coverage and the goal of covering people for preventive medicine is to keep them well, which keeps them out of emergency rooms. The most expensive health care you can receive is in an emergency rooms," said Yount.
"And if they don't correct that problem it's going to be a slow withering of providers. We're just going to gradually go bankrupt and go onto doing other things, and we're already at that point, we're losing money. I'm losing money every month," Buras said.
And on top of the Medicaid problem, Dr. Buras said he is having to pay much more to provide health coverage for his staff because of the Affordable Care Act.
"My health insurance premiums for my employees tripled," he said.
He said he cannot make up that money with patients.
"Many private practitioners are small businessmen, and they need to pay their employees, they need to pay their employees' insurance, and so if they aren't getting paid for seeing the patients, they can't continue to practice," said Yount.
The amount of the delayed Medicaid payments include both the state's share and the federal government.
Unfortunately, more budget cuts may be needed early next year because tax revenues continue to be lower than projected.