The Slatest

Another Reason Being Poor Is a Pain

Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Burwell.

Alex Wong/Getty

Last week Slate printed an excerpt from Hand to Mouth: Living in Bootstrap America, in which Linda Tirado wrote about the many practical difficulties and impossibilities of being poor. On that front: A new report by the inspector general for the Department of Health and Human Services found that more than half of randomly surveyed doctors listed in a Medicaid provider directory weren’t actually available to take patients.

The authors of the study compiled a list of doctors who might be contacted for routine appointments (general practitioners, OB-GYNs, orthopedists) from states that deliver Medicaid services through managed care programs. Then they called 1,800 of the doctors and asked when their next appointment was available. The results:


In other words, if you’re on Medicaid (in the states covered by the study) and you need to make a routine doctor’s appointment, there’s a 35 percent chance that the first number you call is for a provider that doesn’t currently exist. And there’s just under a two-thirds chance that the first number you call won’t lead to an appointment within a month. (The problem of inaccurate provider information is not only limited to Medicaid, though a recent California report chastising insurers for their faulty listings found rates of inaccuracy that were about half as bad as those reported by DHHS.)

For more on Tirado’s background, you can read a short autobiography she posted on a GoFundMe page—which includes a reference to having difficulty making a doctor’s appointment through Medicaid while pregnant.