WSMA urges lawmakers to support initiatives that aim to improve patient access to care at Washington medical practices

Results from a new survey indicate inflation and staffing shortages continue to severely strain Washington’s medical practice community and hinder patients’ ability to access care during a crucial period of recovery in the state. 

 

Get the latest state-specific policy intelligence for the health care sector delivered to your inbox.

 

The survey was shared with 5,000 physicians working in independent (non-networked) physician clinics in October and November.

If actions are not taken to shore up the outpatient practice community, access to care will continue to diminish over the next year, creating more pressure on the state’s already overwhelmed hospitals.

The survey focused on practices that are not affiliated with a hospital system and are often the only care provided in some communities, including underserved and rural areas. Eighty-two physician practices responded, representing more than a thousand physicians and health care professionals that provide care to millions of Washingtonians.

Survey findings included:

  • Nearly 50% of respondents noted their practice has had to reduce patient access, including reducing office hours, services, and treatments, in response to staffing shortages.
  • More than 30% have had to reduce patient access, including reducing office hours, services, and treatments, in response to inflation.
  • Nearly 50% have had to limit the number of Medicaid patients they see due to the practice’s current financial statement.
  • Fewer than 10% have the minimum available cash required for operating expenses (“days cash on hand,” defined as 18 weeks’ worth), with nearly half of practices having less than four weeks’ worth of available cash.
  • Just over 50% expect further reductions in patient access within a year if staffing and financial trends continue.
  • Increasing Medicaid reimbursements and reducing staffing strain from prior authorization requirements were the most commonly cited solutions to easing the pressures experienced by practices.

Survey respondent TRA Medical Imaging, which provides imaging services for over one million South Puget Sound patients in multiple outpatient clinic locations, has been forced to reduce office hours, as well as access to treatments, and is experiencing severe patient backlogs. 

“This is a very difficult time for our clinics,” TRA President Douglas Seiler, MD, said. “The last thing we ever want to do is reduce the care we provide to our patients, but in this economy, stagnant reimbursements and insurer requirements that add significantly to our practice and staffing costs leave us little choice.”

The Washington State Medical Association (WSMA) is urging Washington lawmakers and patients to support two initiatives in the upcoming legislative session that could help keep practices open and patient care widely available, which include:

  • The WSMA is asking the legislature to raise Medicaid rates for all physician specialties to adequately cover expenses, as physician groups overwhelmingly report that doing so will help stabilize finances and maintain access for current Medicaid patients or help increase their Medicaid caseloads. Today, Medicaid covers 30% of the state’s patient population, and while businesses in other industries may increase prices to address inflation, medical practices seeing Medicaid patients are constrained from doing so as the state legislature sets Medicaid rates.
  • The WSMA will support legislation that would reduce administrative burden by reining in insurance carrier prior authorization practices, which limit access to care for patients and would also relieve staffing challenges currently felt by most of the physician community.

“The WSMA is concerned that there may be patients facing problems accessing basic care in their communities, and if we don’t prioritize our community practices and clinics now, the problem will only get worse” WSMA CEO Jennifer Hanscom said. “These community practices are critically needed to prevent increasing volume and strain on our already stressed hospital emergency departments, and in the long-term, to support the ability of patients to access care in their communities.”

This press release was provided by the Washington State Medical Association.