Doctor pay raise encounters controversy

Reimbursing underpaid doctors more for treating Medicaid patients, with the additional money coming from the federal government instead of state coffers, might appear to be an easy thing for a health agency board to approve.

But the idea was not greeted enthusiastically by the state Department of Community Health board.

There were expressions of dissatisfaction and a dissenting vote at Thursday’s board meeting. The discontent appeared to stem from the pay raise’s link to the Affordable Care Act, a federal law that has survived legal and political challenges but remains highly unpopular with many Georgians.

The health reform law requires that Medicaid payment for services by family physicians, internists and pediatricians, and for vaccinations, be raised to Medicare rates, with the extra money supplied by the federal government. The pay bump, starting in January, is for two years.

Low doctor pay from Medicaid has been a major obstacle to access to care in the state. A recent survey of 1,400 physicians in Georgia that showed half of them do not accept new Medicaid or PeachCare patients.

Jerry Dubberly, the state Medicaid chief, presented the pay hike proposal to the agency board Thursday for initial adoption of a public notice of the change.

Community Health board member Clay Cox wasn’t pleased. “We don’t have a choice,’’ commented Cox, a former Georgia House member and CEO and founder of Professional Probation Services.

“It is the law,’’ Dubberly responded, referring to the ACA.

“This is just disgusting,’’ said Cox, apparently irked that federal taxpayer funds — including those of Georgians — are involved.

Dubberly said there would be administrative costs to the state with the change. “It’s significant staffing time,’’ he said.

Board member Rick Jackson sought clarification on what the money was for. “No one dislikes Obamacare as much as I do,’’ said Jackson, who is chairman and CEO of Jackson Healthcare in Alpharetta, a health care staffing company.

In the end, the initial adoption of the public notice of the pay hike was approved by the Community Health board, with Cox the only “no’’ vote.

GHN will have more about the physician pay raise in the coming days.