Doctors in some of Illinois’ most underserved communities face an uncertain future. What does that mean for the patients they serve?

It all centers on issues with Medicaid, a federal and state run health insurance program that helps people with limited income.

Doctors who treat Medicaid patients say too often their claims are rejected or they collect less money than what they billed. Either way, they’re hurting. Some offices have already closed and the closures have created medical deserts in some of the area’s most vulnerable communities.

Other offices are barely holding on.

“I felt like I was working for free by doing what I love to do,” Dr. Ayman Rawda said.

The pediatrician operates a private practice in south suburban Oak Lawn. He worries he may have to close or stop treating families with the government insurance, if reimbursement issues aren’t resolved.

“It’s sad, the story that we have to deal with,” he said.

Dr. Minal Giri can relate. She closed her family’s office in Melrose Park in 2020.

“I was putting my own money in the practice just to stay afloat,” she said.

The practice, founded by her father, had treated multiple generations of west suburban families. But issues with Medicaid proved too much to bear, she said.

“Not easy to get paid is an understatement,” she said.

A recent University of Chicago study underscored the challenge, finding that on average physicians treating Medicaid patients collect less money and see a higher number of claims rejected.

The Illinois Department of Healthcare and Family Services, the agency that oversees the state’s Medicaid program, said it’s working to fix billing issues. 

For some doctors, though, it’s too little, too late. And it’s their patients that are paying a price.

“There’s really nowhere for them to go,” Giri said.