Some state doctors soon will receive more money for treating Medicaid patients, providing at least temporary relief from the program's low reimbursement rates.
Under a provision of President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act, the federal government will give states extra money to boost Medicaid reimbursements to primary care physicians.
Through 2014, primary doctors will be paid just as much to treat Medicaid patients as they are for Medicare services, which are traditionally more lucrative.
Penney Hall, Medicaid spokeswoman for the state Department of Health and Human Resources, said that adds up to an additional $24 million for state doctors.
She said it's unclear how many state doctors would qualify, but there are about 2,100 primary care physicians in the state who treat Medicaid patients.
Doctors need only to file a form with DHHR to receive the extra money, showing they are eligible for the increased reimbursements. About 500 physicians have already submitted forms.
Hall said the first of the higher paychecks should be disbursed in early August. Eligible doctors also can claim retroactive payments back to Jan. 1 of this year.
Medicaid traditionally has paid doctors far less than Medicare.
In 2012, West Virginia's Medicaid program paid only 80 percent of Medicare fees, according to a 2012 Report from the Kaiser Family Foundation.
For primary care services, Medicaid paid only 74 cents for every dollar spent by Medicare, the report found.
Both government health insurance programs still pay far less than private health insurance, however.
Only certain physicians and services will be eligible for the increased reimbursements.
"It's more for evaluation and management of the patient," Hall said.
Primary care physicians, as well as nurse practitioners and physicians assistants that work in their practices, will be eligible for the pay increase. The reimbursements will apply only for office visits and vaccinations, not for medical procedures like surgeries.