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Organizing Uninsured Safety-Net Access to Specialist Physician Services


Arranging referrals for specialist services is often the greatest difficulty that safety-net access programs face in attempting to provide fairly comprehensive services for the uninsured. When office-based community specialists are asked to care for uninsured patients, they cite the following barriers: difficulty determining which patients merit charity care, having to arrange for services patients need from other providers, and concerns about liability for providing inadequate care. Solutions to these barriers to specialist access can be found in the same institutional arrangements that support primary care and hospital services for the uninsured. These safety-net organization structures can be extended to include specialist physician care by funding community health centers to contract for specialist referrals, using free-standing referral programs to subsidize community specialists who accept uninsured patients at discounted rates, and encouraging hospitals through tax exemption or disproportionate share funding to require specialists on their medical staffs to accept an allocation of uninsured office-based referrals.