Miss. hospital braces for looming Medicaid cuts

Published 3:17 pm Friday, June 6, 2008

The urgency in resolving Mississippi’s Medicaid budget shortfall can be found in the heart of the Delta, one of the poorest regions in the nation.

At the Delta Regional Medical Center in Greenville, more than 4,000 patients a month seek treatment in the emergency room, and many of them are Medicaid recipients or are uninsured.

“This area of the country has the highest incidence of disease and death rates of anywhere in America,” Delta Regional Chief Executive Ray Humphreys said, adding the hospital has already coped with about $6 million in Medicaid and Medicare reductions during the past two years.

“A future, additional Medicaid reimbursement cut on top of those would virtually devastate our ability to continue to provide anything but basic surgical care to our population,” Humphreys said Thursday.

Delta Regional is among dozens of hospitals in the state that would bear the brunt of the Medicaid reductions if lawmakers can’t break through an impasse over how to fill a $90 million hole in the program’s budget for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

The funding quandary was among several items for which Gov. Haley Barbour called a special session that began May 21. Lawmakers are now in a three-week recess — described by some as a cooling-off period — before returning on June 26 to resume Medicaid talks.

Humphreys said previous Medicaid reductions in obstetrics and outpatient care forced his 358-bed facility to eliminate 100 jobs through attrition. The only full-service hospital in the area, Delta Regional sees patients from the Delta region of Arkansas, Louisiana and Mississippi.

The governor wants to restructure hospital taxes to generate the $90 million, which draws a 3-to-1 match from the federal government. His proposal has been approved by the Senate, but it was rejected in the House, which has passed a bill to dip into the state’s rainy day fund for the money instead.

Legislators in both chambers say they favor a cigarette tax over a hospital tax, but Barbour and Senate leadership oppose the idea. Barbour vetoed tobacco tax legislation in recent years, and the full Senate hasn’t voted on a tax bill since 2006.

Barbour has told the health care program to identify services to cut in the upcoming fiscal year. Medicaid spokesman Francis Rullan said the program’s officials met Thursday, and that no services have been changed yet.

Sam Cameron, president and CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association, said Thursday that the association would prefer a cigarette tax. But, he said, “in the current political environment, we don’t see that a tax on tobacco or using general fund revenues to fund the Medicaid shortfall will be accomplished.”