Mississippi Medicaid increasing visits to doctors’ offices

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JACKSON, Miss. — Mississippi’s Medicaid program will soon start covering more doctors’ office visits for its recipients in a move that officials hope will ultimately save the state some money.

Starting Jan. 1, most recipients can see a physician up to 16 times a year. That is an increase from the current limit of 12. The Division of Medicaid announced the new policy Tuesday, months after Gov. Phil Bryant signed a law authorizing several changes in Medicaid services.

Legislators have said lifting the cap on physicians’ visits could encourage Medicaid recipients to seek preventative health care rather than waiting to seek more expensive care in emergency rooms after serious conditions develop. Division of Medicaid spokesman Matt Westerfield said it’s difficult to estimate how often people will change where and when they seek medical services.

Medicaid officials estimate that covering additional doctors’ office visits could cost less than $1 million, and there could be savings from a decrease in emergency room visits, Westerfield said in response to questions from The Associated Press.

“We are hopeful that improving beneficiary access to care in the most appropriate, lowest cost setting will result in better health outcomes and significant financial benefit to taxpayers,” he said Tuesday.

Some Mississippi Medicaid recipients already are eligible for larger numbers of doctors’ office visits. Those in nursing homes receive 36 per year, and those in managed care don’t have a limit.

Medicaid is a government health insurance program for the needy, aged, blind and disabled. It covers nearly 675,000 people in Mississippi, or about 22 percent of the state’s 3 million residents. The federal government pays for more than 75 percent of Medicaid expenses in Mississippi, one of the poorest states in the nation.

During the state budget year that ended in June 2016, about 8 percent of eligible Mississippi Medicaid beneficiaries reached the limit of 12 physicians’ visits, Westerfield said.

Mississippi is among the 14 states that have not expanded Medicaid coverage to adults who earn up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, or an income of $28,676 for a family of three. Medicaid expansion is an option under the health overhaul law signed in 2010 by then-President Barack Obama. Bryant and Republican legislative leaders in Mississippi have said they don’t want to increase the number of people enrolled in a government program.