In his 2014 budget address, Gov. Chris Christie announced an expansion of Medicaid in compliance with the Affordable Care Act. Dr. Herb Conaway, chairman of the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee, told NJ Today Managing Editor Mike Schneider that he believes the changes will benefit patients and health care providers.
The health care exchange is scheduled to start Jan. 1, 2014 and Conaway said that more than half of the 1.25 million uninsured New Jerseyans may be able to get health insurance through the exchanges. He said that change would likely help more physicians join the Medicaid system, which would be beneficial.
“As more folks have insurance, they’ll be able to see their doctors in their private offices just like everybody else does who has insurance through their employer,” Conaway said. “And they’ll get better preventative care at lower cost than they would otherwise get that care if they have to go to the hospital.”
It has been difficult to get physicians to accept Medicaid because of historically low payment rates, Conaway said. “New Jersey, for a wealthy state, has some of the lowest Medicaid rates in the nation and as a result when you call up for an appointment and you say, ‘I have Medicaid as my insurance,’ all of a sudden you don’t get an appointment or ‘My office is closed to Medicaid,’ and so, so many people who have that as their only insurance don’t have a lot of physicians who will see them,” he said. “They end up therefore getting care in the hospital, which is about four times more than that same care provided in the outpatient setting.”
Federal health care reform for 2013 and 2014 is setting Medicaid rates at Medicare rates, which Conaway said will help primary care providers, which includes internists, pediatricians and family practitioners but not specialists. He added that the great need is in primary care.
Conaway said health care reforms offer a win-win situation because patients have insurance coverage for their care and it eases the burden on hospitals that must pay for care when patients can’t pay and don’t have insurance. “For many states it’s uncompensated care that’s a drag on the hospitals, it puts hospitals out of business and people lose jobs,” he said. “This national health reform will protect hospital revenue, will protect jobs and more importantly provide care to so many who need it.”
Many of the recipients of the new health care options are low income and one challenge will be getting the word out so they can take advantage of the programs. Conaway said all government agencies should provide information about the programs to ensure the greatest participation.
“I think our big challenge is to use every outlet of the government whether it be DMV, whether it be the labor office. Anyone who touches an individual should have as part of that touch, information about the health care exchange,” Conaway said.