Columbia Medical Plan will enroll Medicaid patients outside Baltimore

April 13, 1993|By Sherry Joe | Sherry Joe,Staff Writer

Through a new contract with the state, the Columbia Medical Plan has become the first area health maintenance organization outside of Baltimore City to enroll Medicaid patients as full members.

Seventeen Howard County Medicaid patients have become members since the contract was signed March 31. The organization also is accepting Medicaid patients in Anne Arundel, Carroll and Frederick Counties.

"It's another way that low-income people can get comprehensive services," said county Health Officer Dr. Joyce Boyd.

"That's always positive," she said.

Columbia Medical Plan, a subsidiary of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Maryland, began enrolling Medicaid patients for the first time in 24 years under the contract with the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene.

As HMO members, Medicaid patients now have access to all physicians employed by Columbia Medical Plan.

In addition to standard Medicaid benefits, patients also will receive adult dental and vision care, which were eliminated last year due to state budget cuts.

"It's all one-stop shopping," said Lorraine Tunis, Medicaid marketing manager for Columbia Medical Plan. "All their services are coordinated by a primary care provider."

Before the HMO program took effect April 1, Medicaid patients visited the Columbia Medical Plan on a fee-for-service basis, and through the Maryland Access to Care program, which requires Medicaid recipients to select a primary care provider for basic care.

Public health officials expect the organization to enroll a maximum of 10,000 patients within the next few years.

Although three HMOs in Baltimore City have been enrolling Medicaid patients for more than 10 years, public health officials said Howard County and other suburban areas have not done so because of cost differences in jurisdictions, fewer organizations willing to treat the poor, and fewer Medicaid patients.

There are about 200,000 Medicaid patients in Baltimore City, for example, compared to about 4,500 eligible patients in Howard County, Ms. Tunis said.

Because of Columbia Medical Plan's emphasis on preventive care through regular doctor visits and health education, the state expects to save about $370,000 a year, said Katherine Tvaronas, staff specialist for the state health department's HMO Program.

Ms. Tvaronas said that the contract is beneficial for both the state and Medicaid recipients.

"It's a cost saving and an access to quality care that wasn't there before," she said.

Ms. Tunis said the Columbia Medical Plan, which serves about 72,000 people throughout Maryland, will receive about $98 per Medicaid patient each month.

"We'll be able to use the money from the state to pour back into preventive care," Ms. Tunis said.

"It's a nice circle," she said."

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