Rep. Ben Cannon (D-Portland) is sponsoring a bill that aims to provide incentives for Oregon providers who serve Medicare and Medicaid patients
March 8, 2011--Oregon has the dubious distinction of reimbursing doctors for seeing Medicaid patients at one of the lowest rates in the nation.
Consequently, a growing number of medical professionals in the state are refusing to see people covered by the Oregon Health Plan, limiting access to care for the neediest patients, including children.
A bill sponsored by Rep. Ben Cannon (D-Portland) would attempt to address this issue by creating what he calls “a sweetener for those willing to take Medicaid patients.”
It creates an option to enroll in the state’s deferred compensation plan as independent contractors and build a healthy retirement fund while helping underserved populations.
House Bill 3135
takes its cue from the Mississippi Deferred Compensation Plan and Trust,
which allows providers to allocate part of their income from seeing Medicare and Medicaid patients to a tax-free state deferred compensation fund. The program has proven effective, according to Dr. Don Lagrone, a Portland-based pediatric physician who worked in Mississippi for more than 30 years before coming to Oregon.
“[The program] has acted as a subtle incentive to doctors, and as a simple, revenue-neutral mechanism to serve more uninsured patients,” Lagrone told the House Health Care Committee Monday. “Providers get a healthy nest egg accumulated at no cost to taxpayers.”
Currently, state statute bars independent contractors from participating in its deferred compensation fund, the Oregon Savings Growth Plan
, which is administered by the Public Employees Retirement System (PERS). House Bill 3135 would amend the statute to include physicians, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, and other medical providers.
The Oregon Health Authority would be charged with establishing eligibility requirements for participating in the plan, based on the number of Medicare and Medicaid patients seen by providers.
For Lagrone, the bill is especially important in light of the recent expansion of the Oregon Healthy Kids
program, which provides healthcare coverage to uninsured children.
“The  Healthy Kids legislation increases the imperative to cover uninsured kids,” said Lagrone. “This bill will provide an incentive to make the goal of Healthy Kids legislation – to insure 95 percent of Oregon’s children – a reality.”
There are unanswered questions about the bill, such as the amount of time and money PERS staff would require. A PERS staffer said Monday that “we stand ready to work … to try and navigate how to overcome those barriers.”
Legislators appeared receptive to the bill, with Rep. Mitch Greenlick (D-Portland) calling it “an interesting way to reward people working with Medicare and Medicaid patients.”
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