By Representative Paul Broun
Last week, my staff had conversations with two medical specialists in Athens whose local practices cannot afford to accept any Medicaid patients or children who are on PeachCare, Georgia's version of the federal Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
As a physician, I found this to be alarming but not surprising. The inconvenient truth is the majority of medical providers in my district in Georgia, and nationwide, cannot afford to treat the most underprivileged patients in our country.
Medical practitioners are three times more likely to deny Medicaid and CHIP patients than they are to deny Medicare or private-insurance customers. This is because physician reimbursement rates under these programs are virtually nonexistent and payments by the government are typically not made in a timely manner.
When doctors cannot accept Medicaid and CHIP patients, we leave the most vulnerable portion of the population high, dry and uninsured. It's a perpetual Catch-22, and it's a daily occurrence in Athens-Clarke County, which has the fifth-highest poverty rate in the nation.
Unfortunately, limited patient care isn't the only problem with Medicaid and CHIP. Taken together, these programs are bankrupting state governments, which must match payments to receive federal dollars, even as federal law is allowing the number of patients enrolling to skyrocket.
In just 20 years, Medicaid spending increased from $72 billion to over $400 billion. Even worse, Obamacare is expected to add between 17 and 25 million people to the Medicaid rolls without making the reforms needed to put these programs on a viable fiscal course. The math simply doesn't add up. States cannot maintain balanced budgets while supporting millions of new Medicaid and CHIP patients.
That's why this month, I teamed up with the Republican Study Committee's chairman, Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, and two of our colleagues to introduce HR 4160, the State Health Flexibility Act. This common-sense bill would repeal the federal mandates of Obamacare and send federal Medicaid and CHIP allotments back to the states in the form of flexible block grants.
No two states are alike, and Georgians shouldn't be subject to one-size-fits-all federal standards of care.
If our bill were to pass, there would be fewer Washington regulations, more efficiency when it comes to providing care, and the freedom for states to determine the coverage terms and physician payment systems which make the most sense based on their own demographics.
These ideas have real backing at the state level. More than half of the U.S. governors -- including Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal -- have endorsed the kind of reforms presented in our bill, because they know that these have their states' best interests in mind.
At the same time, many members of Congress support these principles because sending this money back to the states would save the federal government from borrowing and spending nearly $2 trillion every year. Our bill is a win for both patients and taxpayers.
I'm hopeful that support for the State Health Flexibility Act will continue to grow in the coming weeks so that Congress can make a move to save the Medicaid and CHIP programs once and for all.
It is critical that we create a foolproof safety net for those in our society who truly need the government's help and ensure that physicians are once again able to treat underprivileged families without penalty.
The State Health Flexibility Act is the best permanent fix to these ailing federal programs.
Paul Broun, a Republican, represents Georgia's 10th District in the U.S. House of Representatives and is a doctor.