Cover: Specialty Care Access for Medicaid Enrollees in Expansion States

Specialty Care Access for Medicaid Enrollees in Expansion States

Published in: American Journal of Managed Care, Volume 25, No. 3, pages e83-e87 (March 2019)

Posted on Nov 27, 2019

by Justin W. Timbie, Ashley M. Kranz, Ammarah Mahmud, Cheryl L. Damberg


Community health centers (CHCs) historically have reported challenges obtaining specialty care for their patients, but recent policy changes, including Medicaid eligibility expansions under the Affordable Care Act, may have improved access to specialty care. The objective of this study was to assess current levels of difficulty accessing specialty care for CHC patients, by insurance type, and to identify specific barriers and strategies that CHCs are using to overcome these barriers.

Study Design

Cross-sectional survey, administered during summer 2017, of medical directors at CHCs in 9 states and the District of Columbia, all of which expanded Medicaid.


Surveys were administered to medical directors at 361 CHCs (response rate, 55%) to assess the difficulty of accessing specialty care by insurance type and to identify the specialties for which it was most difficult to obtain new patient visits. The survey also elicited ratings of commonly reported barriers to obtaining specialty care and identified strategies used by CHCs to access specialty care for patients. Descriptive results are presented.


Nearly 60% of CHCs reported difficulty obtaining new patient specialty visits for their Medicaid patients, most often for orthopedists. Barriers to specialty care reported by CHCs included that few specialists in Medicaid managed care organization (MCO) networks were accepting new patients (69.4%) and MCO administrative requirements for obtaining specialist consults (49.0%). To enhance access to specialists, CHCs reported that they entered into referral agreements, developed appointment reminder systems, and participated in data exchange and other community-based initiatives.


Medicaid patients at CHCs face many barriers to accessing specialty care. Payment policies and network adequacy rules may need to be reexamined to address these challenges.

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