Two Federal Bills Seek To Define Physicians As DPMs Under Medicaid

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By Brian McCurdy, Associate Editor

   Since Medicaid does not recognize podiatrists as physicians, beneficiaries of the federal program may not receive podiatric care for their foot and ankle conditions. However, recent bills in the Senate and House aim to define podiatrists as physicians under Medicaid. The bills’ proponents, including the American Podiatric Medical Association (APMA), say the change will enhance preventive patient care and possibly prevent states from making cuts in podiatric services during budget crises.    Foot and ankle care provided by a MD or DO is covered as a “physician service” under Medicaid but similar care provided by a podiatric physician may not be covered.    If podiatrists are not considered physicians under Medicaid, Michael Downey, DPM, believes there may be negative consequences for patients as they would not be able to see podiatrists for foot and ankle emergencies. He says this would be a particular problem in emergency rooms or for diabetic patients, especially in urban areas, where many Medicaid patients who require podiatric services would either be referred to other physicians or not receive care. Podiatrists see many Medicaid patients in hospital ERs when other medical specialists will not, adds Dr. Downey, the Chief of the Division of Podiatric Surgery at the University of Pennsylvania Medical Center-Presbyterian in Philadelphia.    Podiatrists provide the majority of foot care to high-risk Medicaid patients such as diabetics, according to Dr. Downey. If these patients cannot have access to podiatrists, Dr. Downey says this could lead to a rise in amputations and other problems that arise from not receiving proper diabetic foot care. Both he and Ronald Jensen, DPM, believe such a lack of care would actually increase Medicaid costs over time. However, Dr. Jensen, the Chairman of the Legislative Committee of the APMA, points out the cost of including the estimated 15,000 DPMs as physicians under the Medicaid definition would be nominal.

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