Hill working to update health bill

Published 8:36 am Tuesday, February 9, 2016

REGULAR CHECKUP: Christopher Fletcher, a nurse practitioner at Children’s International Medical Group in Picayune, performs an exam on 5-year-old Bella.  Photo by Cassandra Favre

REGULAR CHECKUP: Christopher Fletcher, a nurse practitioner at Children’s International Medical Group in Picayune, performs an exam on 5-year-old Bella.
Photo by Cassandra Favre

Friday, District 40 Senator Angela Hill introduced two Senate bills designed to update antiquated rules hindering the creation of health clinics in rural communities.

Her quest began when Vice President of Strategy and Business Development for Children’s International Medical Group Zach Allen reached out to the senator. 

CIMG is the largest privately owned pediatric service provider in Louisiana and is headquartered in Slidell, Allen said. They also have clinics in Gulfport, Bay St. Louis and Picayune. They accept all forms of Medicaid and private health insurance plans. Within the group, there are 28 pediatricians and 14 nurse practitioners.

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The group is seeking to expand the number of clinics in Mississippi and met with representatives from the Mississippi Rural Physicians Scholarship Program, which encourages Mississippi residents to become doctors and practitioners who practice in rural areas of the state. 

“Through that process, we have looked into developing a rural health clinic,” Allen said. “It’s a special program that makes having a small clinic in a community sustainable because you don’t have the volume of patients you have in a big city.”

One of the federal rules that must be followed when establishing a rural health clinic is the required presence of a nurse practitioner, Allen said. It came from the 1977 law that established rural health clinics as a way to promote the profession. 

However, there’s a state rule that hinders the creation of clinics in rural areas. Mississippi is the only state with this rule, Hill said. 

“Say we wanted to establish a children’s clinic in Poplarville and there’s no pediatrician there,” Allen said. “The way the rule reads is that the nurse practitioner has to be within 15 miles of the supervising physician. We have to follow that rule. There are 34 counties in Mississippi without a pediatrician and we’d like to put clinics in a lot of these different counties but we just can’t afford to put in a doctor and nurse practitioner.”

Senator Hill said there are exemptions to this mile rule, such as emergency rooms and federally funded health clinics. 

“People have no idea Mississippi has antiquated rules that other states don’t have that prevent us from opening small business and bringing healthcare in,” Hill said. “We have all these bad health indicators but we don’t have pediatricians in 35 counties and some counties who don’t have a doctor, that makes a big difference. With the technology that we have in place today, the 15-mile rule makes no sense.”

Senate Bill 2185 would add rural health clinics to the Mississippi mileage rule exemption list.

Senate Bill 2175 addresses the second challenge, the process Medicaid uses to credential a provider. The state program takes about 30 days. However, when a provider has to be re-credentialed by managed care organizations, that process could take up to nine months.

Hill said the creation of these clinics would also have a positive economic impact on job creation.

Mississippi Rural Health Association Executive Director Ryan Kelly said the average economic impact of a rural health clinic is about $800,000 to $1 million per year. 

“That’s substantial in one of these small towns and becomes one of the largest industries in these areas,” he said. 

Stacey Wilkes, public relations for Pearl River County Hospital and Nursing Home, said the passage of this bill would provide healthcare access to low-income families that they might otherwise postpone.  

If a supervising doctor goes to lunch more than 15 miles away or takes a vacation, the clinic must be shut down, Hill said. 

“I feel good about the bill,” Hill said. “When you get a business that has the track record that CIMG has and the reputation that comes with this group and they want to invest private capital in the state of Mississippi, we need to remove the barriers to let them invest the capital, create the business and bring access to healthcare to areas that don’t have adequate access.”

View more details about Senate Bill 2175 at https://www.billtrack50.com/BillDetail/703201 and Senate Bill 2185 at https://www.billtrack50.com/BillDetail/703361.