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Some doctors wary of taking insurance exchange patients

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Now that many people finally have health insurance through the Affordable Care Act exchanges, some are running into a new problem: They can’t find a doctor who will take them as patients.

Because these exchange plans often have lower reimbursement rates, some doctors are limiting how many new patients they take with these policies, physician groups and other experts say.

“The exchanges have become very much like Medicaid,” says Andrew Kleinman, a plastic surgeon and president of the Medical Society of the State of New York. “Physicians who are in solo practices have to be careful to not take too many patients reimbursed at lower rates or they’re not going to be in business very long.”

Kleinman says his members complain rates can be 50% lower than commercial plans. Cigna and Aetna, however, say they pay doctors the same whether the plan is sold on an ACA network or not. United Healthcare spokeswoman Tracey Lempner says it’s up to their physicians whether they want to be in the exchange plan networks, which have “rates that are above Medicaid.” Medicaid rates are typically below those for Medicare, which in turn are generally lower than commercial insurance plans.To prevent discrimination against ACA policyholders, some insurance contracts require doctors to accept their exchange-plan patients along with those on commercial plans unless the doctors’ practices are so full they simply can’t treat any more people. But lower reimbursement rates make some physicians reluctant to sign on to some of these plans or accept too many of the patients once they are in the plans.

“I definitely feel like a bad person who is leeching off the system when I call the doctors’ offices,” she says.Shawn Smith of Seymour, Ind., spent about five months trying to find a primary care doctor on the network who would take her with a new, subsidized silver-level ACA insurance plan.

Last week, Smith found a practice that would accept her as a patient. Caroline Carney, chief medical officer of MDwise, Smith’s insurer, says some doctors “might be participating with us, but just not able to take on new patients. It’s at the doctor’s discretion.”

Jon Fougner, a recent Yale Law School graduate, sued Empire Blue Cross this month because he couldn’t find a primary care doctor in his new ACA exchange plan…

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