Blunt proposes nearly $53 million raise for doctors

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. _ Doctors who treat lower-income Missourians would get a nearly $53 million pay raise under a budget proposal outlined Thursday by Gov. Matt Blunt.

Physicians who participate in the state's Medicaid program have long received less money than they would for providing the same services to patients covered by private insurance or the federal Medicare program for seniors.

As a result, some doctors have dropped out of Medicaid or stopped taking new patients covered by the government health care program for the poor. Missouri's Medicaid program was renamed earlier this year as Mo HealthNet.

As recently as last year, payments provided to physicians under the Medicaid program averaged just 45 percent of the amount provided by Medicare.

But the budget for the current year included about $66 million to bump up those payment rates to a minimum of 55 percent of the Medicare reimbursement rate.

Blunt proposed an additional increase of $52.8 million in state and federal funds for the fiscal year starting July 1. If lawmakers approve Blunt's proposal, that would raise physician payment rates under Mo HealthNet to a minimum of 65 percent of the Medicare payment rate, Blunt said.

The governor called that a significant funding increase that should entice more physicians to participate in Mo HealthNet and thus improve the quality of services to patients.

After taking office as governor in January 2005, Blunt signed legislation eliminating or reducing Medicaid services to hundreds of thousands of people in a move that he said was necessary to slow the growth of the program and balance the state budget.

In 2007, Blunt signed a bill revamping Medicaid by placing a greater emphasis on preventative health care. That bill also authorized a restoration of some of the benefits cut two years earlier.

Among other provisions, the new law required the Department of Social Services, by July 2008, to present lawmakers with a four-year proposal to increase payments to Medicaid providers.