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Patients, Doctors Tell State Officials Their Concerns About Medicaid Overhaul

Michael Tomsic
Trey Sutten of NC DHHS describes the Medicaid overhaul before public comments begin in Monroe.

North Carolina is in the midst of a huge change to its Medicaid program, and state officials took their listening tour about it to the Charlotte area Thursday. In Huntersville and Monroe, they heard from patients, advocates and doctors.

North Carolina is overhauling its Medicaid program so that insurance companies and groups of doctors and hospitals are in charge of managing care. Patients will choose from between their plans.    

At the hearing in Monroe, leaders of the North Carolina Academy of Family Physicians set the tone. 

"It’s access, access, access," Charlotte Dr. Rhett Brown said.

He told state officials it's important that patients can figure out which doctors are in which plans.

"It's their physician that they have a relationship with already, and then you make sure that physician is also in the plan that fits that patient's needs, not the other way around," he said.

Cabarrus County family doctor Charles Rhodes said most of his colleagues statewide treat some Medicaid patients.

"This is far from the case in some states, such as Florida, where only about half of the family physicians provide care to Medicaid recipients, making access much more limited," Rhodes said. "We can't allow what has happened in other states to happen in North Carolina."

Several doctors asked the state not to cut reimbursement rates or create administrative nightmares.

Beverly Morrow has a family member on Medicaid.

"Individuals do not receive needed service because costs are first consideration," Morrow said.

One of the main reasons state lawmakers overhauled the program was to make costs more predictable. They want to put the insurance companies and groups of doctors and hospitals on the hook for going over budget, while also holding them to quality metrics.

Director of the North Carolina Psychiatric Association Robin Huffman offered this:

"Long-term cost savings to the system are much more likely to be driven from good care than on a focus on cost savings," she said.

Also, many of the speakers called for North Carolina to expand Medicaid. The Republican-controlled legislature has shown no interest in that. 

Health officials will hold nine more hearings across the state. They'll take public comments through April 18. Then they’re aiming to finalize the overhaul and submit it for federal approval in June.