The Associated Press
AUSTIN — Democratic state senators on Tuesday questioned whether cuts in Medicaid could lead to a shortage of doctors willing to treat the poor, elderly and disabled.
El Paso Sen. Jose Rodriguez said he was worried whether the state will have enough doctors willing to participate in program.
"Back in El Paso, I hear it all the time from people saying that because of these rate cuts that it is affecting access to health care, people are scaling down their Medicaid patient load," he said.
But State Medicaid Director Billy Millwee said that, so far, the data his agency has collected shows no impact on the availability of doctors.
"Are there providers who say they will not take Medicaid anymore? We hear that, but we don't see that in our data," he said. "I don't know if our data is premature for that, or if it is not an access to care issue."
The Senate's Health and Human Services Committee listened to public testimony about Medicaid on Tuesday. During the hearing, Millwee acknowledged that cuts in payments to health care providers took $500 million out of the health care economy, resulting in complaints.
But he said what matters to the agency is not making health care providers happy, but making sure patients get the care they need.
Texas lawmakers cut $15 billion from the state budget last year, including $3.1 billion from the Medicaid program.
Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, focused Tuesday on a 14 percent cut in the Early Childhood Intervention program, which provides assistance to infants and toddlers with developmental disabilities. Officials testified that after the Legislature cut funding, the Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services changed the criteria and cut 10,000 children a year from the program.
West said the state should consider restoring the $45 million cut from the program.
"If we can catch some developmental issues early on and we treat those issues, we'll be saving money down the road," he said.
Gov. Rick Perry has warned that Medicaid costs represent a major challenge to the state budget, and he has called for lawmakers to get the program under control. Experts have said Texas lawmakers underfunded Medicaid by $4.8 billion in the current two-year budget and will likely face a $10 billion shortfall when they meet again next year.
Committee Chair Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, said her committee has worked hard to find efficiencies while maintaining necessary services.
But as much of the questioning focused on problems created by budget cuts, Nelson tried to steer Millwee's testimony toward what was achieved.
Millwee said his agency had achieved about 88 percent of the cost-savings mandated in the current budget.