Fewer California Doctors Accept Medi-Cal, Despite Surge in Number of Patients

Although enrollment in California’s low-income health plan has surged in the last three years, fewer physicians are accepting these Medi-Cal patients, according to a new report.

That means 40 percent of doctors provide 80 percent of Medi-Cal visits statewide.

The report, released this month by the California Health Care Foundation, found that the percentage of California physicians with any Medi-Cal patients decreased from 2013 to 2015.

In 2013, 69 percent of doctors had at least one Medi-Cal patient. But by last year, that statistic had dropped to 64 percent.

Meanwhile, enrollment in Medi-Cal has increased more than 56 percent since January 2014, when the Affordable Care Act expanded health coverage. About 13.5 million Californians are now enrolled in the program — a third of the state.

“For millions of new enrollees to be able to access care, an adequate number of physicians must accept Medi-Cal,” the report states.

The U.C. San Francisco researchers also found that doctors are less likely to accept new patients who have Medi-Cal than those who have Medicare or private health insurance.

Doctors who specialize in psychiatry, internal medicine or family medicine are the least likely physicians to accept Medi-Cal, according to the report. While about three quarters of emergency room doctors accept Medi-Cal, only 37 percent of psychiatrists do.

Researchers mailed a voluntary survey to all California doctors who needed licensure renewal paperwork in the last seven months of 2015. The scientists used the responses to create a sample size of about 6,000 doctors.

The majority of physicians who limit Medi-Cal patients in their practices said they do so because of low payment rates and burdensome program administration. The state reduced the amount it would reimburse doctors for caring for Medi-Cal patients by 10 percent in 2013.

“The Medi-Cal expansion has provided coverage to millions of low-income Californians and helped to drive the uninsured rate in California to a historic low,” the report states. “These findings suggest that the program now needs further investment and improvements to ensure adequate access to care for all beneficiaries.”

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