FLINT, Mich. — Carol Y. Vliet’s cancer returned with a fury last summer, the tumors metastasizing to her brain, liver, kidneys and throat.
As she began a punishing regimen of chemotherapy and radiation, Vliet found a measure of comfort in her monthly appointments with her primary care physician, Dr. Saed J. Sahouri, who had been monitoring her health for nearly two years. She was devastated, therefore, when Sahouri informed her a few months later that he could no longer see her because, like a growing number of doctors, he had stopped taking patients with Medicaid.
Sahouri said that his reimbursements from Medicaid were so low — often no more than $25 per office visit — that he was losing money every time a patient walked in his exam room. The final insult, he said, came when Michigan cut those payments by 8 percent last year to help close a gaping budget shortfall.
“My office manager was telling me to do this for a long time, and I resisted,” Sahouri said. “But after a while you realize that we’re really losing money on seeing those patients, not even breaking even. We were starting to lose more and more money, month after month.”
“It has not taken long for communities like Flint to feel the downstream effects of a nationwide torrent of state cuts to Medicaid, the government insurance program for the poor and disabled. With states squeezing payments to providers even as the economy fuels explosive growth in enrollment, patients are finding it increasingly difficult to find doctors and dentists who will accept their coverage. Inevitably, many defer care or wind up in hospital emergency rooms, which are required to take anyone in an urgent condition.