Millions in Federal Funds Could Be in Jeopardy

Calvin Say
Calvin Say

HONOLULU (KHNL) -- It's a Medicaid mess. Millions in federal funding are on the verge of disappearing, all because the state has not released millions of dollars promised to doctors who take care of lower-income patients.

Last year, lawmakers approved Act 284, which approved $8 million in reimbursement money for doctors who treat Medicaid, QUEST, and fee-for-service patients.  And now, nearly a year later, doctors still haven't seen the money.

But millions more in federal funding could be in jeopardy if Governor Linda Lingle (R-Hawaii) does not release the funds soon.

There's a matching federal component of $9 million. So combine that with the $8 million the state is holding, you're looking at more than $17 million dollars Hawaii doctors aren't getting for services they've already provided.

Health care in Hawaii is a growing issue.  As our population gets older, medical needs increase. But as reimbursement rates decrease, fewer and fewer doctors are seeing lower income patients.

"I am very much concerned about what the doctors are getting at this point in time," said Rep. Calvin Say, Speaker of the House.

Last year, lawmakers approved Act 284, which makes up the difference for doctors who treat Medicaid and fee-for-service patients.

It allocates $8 million, and $9 million more in federal funding is available but only if the state releases its money. That's $17 million in total, but if the governor doesn't release it by the end of June, that money evaporates.

"I truly hope the governor will release these funds so that we could have the match and then support the doctors who are crying for help, also, out in the community," said Say.

Act 284 was passed because doctors who treat lower-income patients get back less than the cost of providing that service.  Simply put, they lose money.  So Act 284 was meant to make up the difference.

"Just a small amount of reimbursements will help doctors in the rural areas, areas where there is very little access, and where we have a lot of medicaid and fee for service patients," said Say.

That's why Speaker Say hopes the money is released to prevent more doctors from leaving our state.

"That's why it's so critical. If you were to get another $8 million in federal match tied to a particular program of medicaid reimbursements and fee for service reimbursements, it's really going to benefit the doctors' reimbursements for these type of patients."

Benefiting doctors who help Hawaii's neediest populations.

The governor is out of town this week, so she's not available to comment.  Lawmakers are optimistic she'll release the funds, because, they say, she's been supportive of measures that help keep doctors from leaving Hawaii.