BYU-Idaho offers explanation for Medicaid rejection, but medical community is skeptical
REXBURG — Brigham Young University-Idaho administrators provided further details about why they will not accept Medicaid for students next year.
Despite the expanded explanation, many in Rexburg and its medical community still aren’t sure about the university’s motivations.
BYU-Idaho’s expanded explanation was sent to students in a mass email Wednesday afternoon. It outlines the decision by the university not to accept Medicaid as health insurance for students. Students at BYU-Idaho are required to have health insurance or enroll in the student health plan to be in school.
“Beginning Winter Semester of 2020, BYU-Idaho will not accept Medicaid as an insurance-waiver option,” the statement reads. “Due to the healthcare needs of tens of thousands of students enrolled annually on the campus of BYU-Idaho, it would be impractical for the local medical community and infrastructure to support them with only Medicaid coverage.”
In November 2018, Idaho passed Medicaid expansion allowing families and individuals who fall within 100 to 138 percent of the federal poverty level to receive Medicaid. The law goes into effect Jan. 1, 2020.
It’s not clear how BYU-Idaho administrators reached their conclusion, and university spokesman Brett Crandall said he was unable to elaborate on the statement or further explain the university’s reasoning.
After the statement was released, EastIdahoNews.com began reaching out to medical organizations to see if they were planning to accept Idaho’s expanded Medicaid and if they expected to be able to handle the caseload.
Several medical providers responded Wednesday and told EastIdahoNews.com, that they have not been involved in any discussions with the university about the Medicaid expansion, but that they had been preparing for an influx of new patients.
Grand Peaks Medical and Dental CEO Lori Sessions said her clinic has been busily working on expanding its offerings in anticipation of Medicaid expansion.
“We are currently expanding to provide more access to medical, dental and behavioral health services in all Grand Peaks locations in anticipation of the influx of patients that Medicaid expansion could possibly bring,” she said.
Grand Peaks is a community health center that accepts all types of insurance, including Medicaid. Sessions said they serve everyone but are geared towards helping those who are low insured and under-insured, which includes a lot of BYU-Idaho students.
“We are a community partner with BYU-Idaho on efforts to try to assist students with their health care needs. BYU-Idaho has not directly reached out to Grand Peaks in regards to our capability to provide access to additional Medicaid patients, but we have plans in place which will allow us to serve additional patients,” Sessions said.
Grand Peaks isn’t the only local clinic planning to accept the expanded Medicaid. The Idaho Department of Health and Welfare shows that 20 clinics in Madison County — the vast majority of them — will be accepting new Medicaid patients.
Additionally, the number of Medicaid enrollees in Madison County is not tremendously high. Currently, 6,420 individuals are on Medicaid in Madison County, according to the department, and to date, only 1,542 more Madison County residents have enrolled in Medicaid for when the expansion goes into effect.
Dr. Clay Prince, a physician at a private family practice and also the chief medical officer at Madison Memorial Hospital, isn’t satisfied with the university’s explanation.
“The explanation lacks a certain credibility because I really don’t think BYU-Idaho officials asked the local medical community whether we felt local resources are able to support an influx of Medicaid enrollees from the college,” Prince said.
The organization most affected would likely be Madison Memorial. It is the only hospital in the county, and it also operates many local area clinics. Hospital spokesman Doug McBride said hospital staff don’t expect the expansion to create additional burden, but they also respect the university’s decision.
“We see the growth of the university as a great benefit to our community,” McBride said. “As a hospital, we feel our medical infrastructure to be strong and able to handle any growth the university and community would need. From our perspective, we do not foresee that the Idaho Medicaid expansion would cause an additional burden. With that being said, we will respect BYUI and their administrative decisions.”
Prince said he also believes the local medical community is capable of handling the influx of Medicaid patients.
“Medicaid is no one’s favorite payer, but I’m not aware of any primary care practices that have closed, or even limited, their practices to Medicaid,” he said. “Fortunately, we do not have a shortage of primary care practices in the area right now, so there is room for practices to accept additional patients.”
As of Wednesday night, EastIdahoNews.com had only spoken to a handful of clinics in Madison County. If others respond with concerns about being unable to handle the new patient load, we will update this article.
Students did seem grateful to have more of an explanation Wednesday, but some still take issue with it. Prior to Wednesday, the university had only issued a two-sentence statement about the policy, and earlier this week students started an online petition demanding more answers from university administrators. That petition now has more than 6,000 signatures.
“I’m glad to have finally been given an explanation. It gives us something to work with,” BYU-Idaho senior Esther Rivas said. “But I am really disappointed. It’s not a very satisfactory explanation for several reasons.”
Rivas is one of the admins on the Accept Medicaid BYU-Idaho Facebook group. The group formed to put pressure on the university to explain its policy, and work to possibly have administrators reverse the policy. Rivas said it should be up to her to decide what health insurance is practical for her and her family — not the school.
“We’ve seen community providers expanding their care, expanding their employment, getting ready for Medicaid,” Rivas said. “So I’m a little confused as to where BYU-Idaho is coming from saying that it’s ‘impractical.'”
EastIdahoNews.com has invited BYU-Idaho administrators to do an on-camera, sit-down interview to clear up any confusion around this topic. If they accept, we will publish additional comments from administrators.