Doctors join hospitals in criticizing governor’s Medicaid plan

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(Host) The Vermont Medical Society says the governor’s plan to cut payments to health care providers to help stabilize the state’s Medicaid program will have a devastating impact on doctors throughout the state. Instead of implementing these cuts, the doctors are urging lawmakers to support a package of tax increases to ensure a reasonable growth in the Medicaid program.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) Vermont’s health care community is making it very clear to the Douglas administration that it has some serious problems with the governor’s Medicaid reform plan. Douglas wants to address a projected $80 million deficit by using nearly $40 million in surplus funds from this year; raising an additional $9 million in premiums from participants of the program; cutting reimbursement payments to hospitals and doctors by $21 million; and by receiving a federal waiver to give the state more flexibility to use federal Medicaid funds.

Last week, Vermont hospitals urged lawmakers to raise a broad based tax to help finance a five-year transition for the Medicaid program. The state’s doctors are being more specific. They want to increase the state cigarette tax by 31 cents and apply the sales tax to soda, beer and candy. It’s estimated that this tax package would raise more than $30 million.

Madeleine Mongon is a spokesperson for the Vermont Medical Society:

(Mongon) “We think these cuts will have a devastating impact on physicians’ ability to stay in business. The cuts would lower the reimbursement to such a degree that they would only be paying about half of the physicians’ costs or less. And physicians can’t really stay in business if they’re being paid so little when we have such a high proportion of the population participating in the Medicaid program – about 25 percent.”

(Kinzel) Human Services Secretary Michael Smith says the governor will oppose efforts to stabilize Medicaid by raising new revenue.

Smith says lawmakers would have to pass new tax increases every year to keep up with the projected demand for the program. Instead, Smith says steps must be taken to reduce expenditures:

(Smith) “You can’t tax high enough or fast enough to get out of the problem here in terms of Medicaid. We’re going to have to make some very tough decisions here over the course of the next month or so. We can’t avoid that. We are trying to avoid the draconian cuts that other states are doing and I think we have a plan that avoids those sort of draconian cuts.”

(Kinzel) Smith says he’s optimistic that the Bush administration will give its conditional approval to the governor’s federal waiver plan in the next few weeks.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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