After the introduction of his newest bill to help attract doctors to the Central Valley, Congressman Jeff Denham spoke Wednesday about the importance of addressing the 10th Congressional District’s doctor shortage and future plans to combat the issue.
Denham, along with 21st Congressional District Congressman David Valadao, on Tuesday introduced HR 2779, the Assessing Critical Care Efforts to Strengthen Services Act (ACCESS Act). The bill is designed to study the best Medicaid reimbursement strategies, with the goal of enticing more physicians to work in areas with higher Medicaid enrollee populations, like the Central Valley.
“I believe our biggest challenge with access is not only the doctor shortage, but actually having incentives or reimbursement rates for our doctors to see more patients,” said Denham during a press conference call Wednesday. “We had a shortage of doctors before the (Affordable Care Act) and now we have an even bigger shortage with more retiring and fewer locating to the Valley.”
Denham hopes that the ACCESS Act will jump start an influx of physicians in the area by developing a Medicaid Payment Model Demonstration Project via the Center for Medicare. This study will focus on payment models for recruiting and retaining doctors to serve low-income individuals residing in counties with an especially high share of Medicaid enrollees.
In addition to the project, Denham has also invited U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price to the Central Valley to meet with local doctors and understand some of the unique challenges that the area faces.
While the Center for Medicare, part of the Department of Health and Human Services, has the ability to conduct a study of this nature on its own, Denham said he preferred to go through legislation to initiate the project in order to produce Valley-specific results.
“It’s important to be prescriptive and ask for specific guidelines that our doctors can help delineate to help us have greater results,” said Denham. “This isn’t something I wanted the agency to address. We want specifics based on what our doctors need, and specifically, the Central Valley and other unique pockets across the entire country.”
According to Denham, approximately 45 percent of Stanislaus County and 41 percent of San Joaquin County are covered by Medi-Cal. Doctors in California typically receive about $37 in reimbursement for each Medi-Cal patient they see, and the state is ranked 48th out of 50 in reimbursement rates.
Denham hopes to see the study produce a satisfactory reimbursement rate, which will attract more physicians to the area while reflecting the prosperous market in California.
“If we prove our goal, which we think we will, higher reimbursement should equate into greater patient care,” he said. “If that’s the case, we expect to see further allocation.”
While there is no completion date for the study set yet, Denham expects to have initial results within six months. Moving forward, Denham hopes to address another issue the Valley faces: a lack of physician residency programs. A graduate medical education bill, which is in the final draft stages, will be unveiled soon, he said, and will expand medical residencies throughout the area.
“Through the GME program, we can expand our residencies,” said Denham. “We’re moving forward with medical schools in the Valley.”