More than six years ago, when Florida International University secured the green light to create a new medical school at its West Miami-Dade main campus, the affirmative vote by the states Board of Governors was hailed as perhaps the most important in the universitys history.
Leading up to that yes vote, FIU leaders presented a finely tuned sales pitch that highlighted the expected benefits of a new med school: significant economic impact, increased numbers of minority physicians and increased access to healthcare among the regions underserved populations.
We have the largest concentration in the state of underserved citizens, then-FIU President Modesto Mitch Maidique told the Board of Governors in a formal presentation prior to the key vote.
But now that FIUs medical school is up and running with a clinic that began seeing public patients in April the school has been placed on the defensive because of the limited access it provides to a key segment of the medically underserved: Medicaid patients.
The universitys on-campus Faculty Group Practice, comprising a handful of full-time FIU faculty physicians, does not accept Medicaid patients, and does not expect to do so for about six months. The clinic includes two family-practice physicians, an internist, four gynecologists and several other doctors, with plans to add specialists in areas such as neurology and cardiology.
The clinic is under an umbrella group known as FIU Health, which encompasses 119 full-time medical faculty members and more than 800 part-time volunteer faculty. A patient who calls the FIU Health main hotline seeking a doctor could be referred to any physician within the umbrella group, regardless of whether they are full- or part-time faculty.
Over time, FIU pledges that all its full-time faculty will honor all forms of insurance. Currently, the doctors at FIUs modest 6,000-square-foot Faculty Group Practice accept Medicare, AvMed and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, among others.
The university did confirm that its Faculty Group Practice does not currently accept Medicaid, but said it does not track what insurances are accepted by the 800-plus volunteer doctors under the network.
FIU provided the names of all volunteer faculty to The Miami Herald. That list was compared with the states database of local Medicaid providers, and revealed that almost one-third of those doctors do not accept Medicaid.
I was very disappointed, said Dr. Francisco Pita, a general practice doctor with an office a few blocks from the FIU campus.
At first, Pita was excited about FIUs opening its doors to the public, and he quickly contacted the university to arrange an appointment for one of his patients a Medicaid-insured senior citizen who needed a hematology specialist. Pita hoped to spare the patient, who has limited mobility, from having to travel across town to Jackson Memorial, the countys public hospital, which handles many Medicaid cases.
But Pita said he was told Medicaid patients were not being accepted at the FIU campus.
Pita said Medicaid recipients routinely have trouble obtaining specialist care, but added he expected more of a community-oriented university such as FIU.
FIU was supposed to be the peoples hospital, Pita said.