Proposed Medicaid co-pays cause concern among advocates, lawmakers

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By Kim Kalunian

PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Governor Gina Raimondo’s proposal, which would implement new Medicaid co-pays, is raising concerns among local advocates and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle.

Under the proposed budget, adults in the Medicaid program would be required to make co-payments on certain services. Patients would pay $3 for non-emergency hospital visits, $8 for non-emergency visits to the emergency room, and $3 for non-preventative doctor visits. They would also be required to pay $2.50 for generic prescriptions and $4 for brand names. State officials believe the co-pays would save roughly $3.2 million a year.

Nearly one in three Rhode Islanders receives Medicaid, the state-federal health insurance program for low-income people. In Rhode Island, it costs more than $2 billion a year.

Linda Katz, policy director for the Economic Progress Institute in Providence, said she’s concerned the co-pays could dissuade Medicaid recipients from seeking medical attention or getting their prescriptions. She said under the guidelines, individuals who qualify for Medicaid can make no more than $16,600 a year, or for a family of three, about $28,000 annually. For those who are worried about paying rent or putting food on the table, Katz believes the co-pay could be a major hurdle.

“Even that small amount of money could mean well, I’m not feeling so well, but I won’t go to the doctor today because I really can’t afford to shell out $3,” she said.

Rhode Island wouldn’t be the first to implement such a program. Twenty-four other states, including Massachusetts, require adult Medicaid recipients to contribute to some of their services. Katz said she doesn’t think Rhode Island should fall in line with those other states.

Others, including lawmakers from both parties, agree.

“I am concerned with how these co-pays could potentially discourage seniors, the disabled, and the poor from seeking treatment when they are sick, or not filling the prescriptions they need because they cannot afford ongoing co-payments,” said Sen. Jeanin Calkin in a statement.

House Minority Leader and Republican candidate for governor, Patricia Morgan, said she’s concerned how the proposal would impact the working poor.

“The good news is almost every Rhode Islander has healthcare and we’re going to keep it going, the budget I proposed has no cuts in eligibility,” Governor Gina Raimondo said in this week’s taping of Newsmakers. “But Medicaid is one of the largest faster growing parts of the budget.”