Bills would generate millions more for Miss. trauma care

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Mississippians might have to pay more for traffic tickets and car tags to help cover uncompensated care that’s crippling the state’s trauma system.

The legislation approved by the House and Senate on Monday also would assess an undetermined fee on hospitals in the state that are capable of participating in the trauma care system, but choose not to. The bill now heads to the governor.

House Public Health Committee Chairman Steve Holland, D-Plantersville, said the “pay or play” provision could raise anywhere from $1 million to $10 million a year. He said the fee increases would generate about $14 million for the system.

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“It will questionably fund trauma care in the next year,” Holland said Monday. He said the bill will “go further than we’ve ever been on trauma care.”

If signed by Gov. Haley Barbour, the law would take effect July 1.

Earlier this year, lawmakers received a task force report on the status of the state’s trauma care system. Mississippi now spends $8 million a year to reimburse hospitals for treating uninsured patients who suffer severe injuries from traffic accidents, gunshot wounds or other life-threatening incidents. At least $40 million a year is needed to maintain the system, according to the report.

Under the bill, non-DUI tickets would increase by $5 — going from the current $10 up to $15. DUI violations would increase from the current $10 up to $30, and moving violations would increase by increments of $10 for every 10 miles over the speed limit.

“The reason is the faster you’re going, the more you may cause trauma,” Holland said.

All car tags would increase by $4 and anyone buying a new all-terrain vehicle or motorcycle would pay a one-time $50 fee, said Sen. Briggs Hobson III, R-Vicksburg.

During the House debate, Rep. Frances Fredericks, D-Gulfport, asked Holland why gun permit fees weren’t included in the bill.

Holland responded that the Senate didn’t want to draw the ire of the National Rifle Association, which grades legislators based on their voting records.

“I’m just telling the truth,” Holland said. “They’re scared.”

Mississippi’s trauma care system rates hospitals from Level 1, the highest, through Level 4, the lowest, based on the types of facilities and physicians they have available.

The University of Mississippi Medical Center, in Jackson, is the only Level 1 trauma center in the state.

Severely injured patients in north Mississippi are frequently sent to the Regional Medical Center at Memphis in Tennessee, known as The Med. Those in south Mississippi are often sent to the University of South Alabama Medical Center in Mobile.

Holland said the Tennessee and Alabama hospitals are covered in the bill, as are all other hospitals in a neighboring state that treat Mississippi patients.

Many hospitals have opted not to participate in the system because of the uncompensated care costs and the difficulty recruiting and retaining specialized physicians.

Because only a portion of the state’s hospitals participate in the trauma system, “it puts a disproportionate burden” on those that do, Holland said.

The bill is House Bill 1405.