John C. Goodman

Of the 50 calls made over a three-month period, only 15 calls were answered and addressed. The remaining 35 calls were met by a recording that stated, “Due to an unexpected volume of callers, all of our representatives are currently helping other people. Please try your call again later,” followed by a busy signal and the inability to leave a voice message. For the 15 answered calls, the average hold time was 22 minutes with the longest hold time being 32 minutes.

This study, by the way, was conducted by the Foundation for Health Coverage Education (FHCE), a nonprofit organization dedicated to helping the uninsured enroll in available health coverage programs. The head of FHCE’s national call center reports that his staff has taken hundreds of calls from people who have tried in the past to enroll in Medicaid, but who found the process so complicated and difficult that they simply quit trying.

I know what you are thinking. What about doctors and hospitals? Can’t they help poor people sign up for public programs and isn’t it in their self-interest to do so? Turns out that medical providers have just as much difficulty with the Medicaid bureaucracy as the patients do:

[I]t routinely takes more than 90 days for the state to enroll uninsured patients into public programs. This is because it is the patient‘s responsibility to apply directly to the state program to receive the needed documentation for hospital reimbursement. Once treatment is provided and the medical incident is over, it is difficult to ensure that the patient continues with the enrollment process.

Can you imagine Aetna taking 90 days to sell someone an insurance policy? What about WellPoint? Or Blue Cross?

Another problem is the Medicaid payment rates. They are so low that California hospitals frequently don’t even bother to try to enroll patients who come to the emergency room, unless they're admitted to the hospital:

[P]ublic program reimbursement is often so low that hospitals are more likely to only seek reimbursement for patients who are eligible for public coverage that fall into the “treat and admit” category rather than those patients who enter the Emergency Room with minor emergencies or illnesses. Furthermore, hospitals estimate that they receive as low as nine percent of fully-billed charges for Medi-Cal patients. Therefore, the providers have little financial incentive to encourage patient enrollment in public programs.

Most people view ObamaCare as a radical reform. Here’s an idea that is even more radical: why not abolish Medicaid? Texas A&M professor Thomas R. Saving, a former Trustee of Medicare, has proposed the idea of Health Care Stamps. They would work like Food Stamps. People who have them would be able to shop around andbuy care in the same medical marketplace that caters to the needs of all other patients — rich and poor alike.

I’ll write more about this idea in the future.

John C. Goodman

John C. Goodman is President of the Goodman Institute and Senior Fellow at The Independent Institute. His books include the widely acclaimed A Better Choice: Healthcare Solutions for America and the award-winning Priceless: Curing the Healthcare Crisis. The Wall Street Journal and National Journal, among other media, have called him the "Father of Health Savings Accounts.”