By Bobby Harrison
Daily Journal Jackson Bureau
JACKSON – Gov. Phil Bryant is proposing the state give Mississippi hospitals $4.4 million to offset the loss of federal funds due to the Affordable Care Act.
Under the federal health care law, commonly called Obamacare, over a period of years the federal reimbursement to hospitals for treating people with no health care coverage, called disproportionate share hospital (DSH) payments, will be significantly reduced.
The intent of the Affordable Care Act is for the DSH cuts to hospitals to be offset by expanding the Medicaid program. Under the law, that expansion covers people earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level or about $15,000 annually for an individual or about $32,000 for a family of four.
But Bryant and the Republican majority in the Legislature have refused to expand Medicaid. Some hospitals and Democrats have complained that the refusal is putting a hardship on Mississippi’s health care providers, particularly hospitals.
Bryant acknowledges that hardship in his budget released earlier this month for the Legislature to consider when it convenes in January.
In his budget narrative, Bryant said the $4.4 million would help hospitals “weather the Obamacare storm.”
The governor said the $4.4 million for hospitals in addition to the $8 million he is proposing to enhance Community Health Centers, which receive government assistance and provide primary care to many low-income people, “should help relieve pressure on hospitals from patients seeking primary care in emergency rooms.”
Studies show people with no insurance and limited ability to pay often seek emergency room treatment.
Some Democrats are continuing to criticize Bryant’s stance on Medicaid expansion.
Sen. Hob Bryan, D-Amory, said the governor is proposing to take state funds away from education and other needs “at the same time he is refusing to accept 100 times that amount of money. Medicaid expansion does not cost the state of Mississippi one red cent, and we have no long-term obligation to continue with the expansion.
“The governor is turning down something approaching one-half billion dollars in federal funds…that can treat sick people and put people to work. At the same time, he is turning down this money, he wants to take $4.4 million out of the state budget to go to the hospitals.”
The $4.4 million would offset one category of federal cuts for the upcoming fiscal year, Bryant said, but he conceded that it would not offset all the federal cuts.
“We appreciate the governor’s acknowledgment that hospitals are in need of financial help to recover from severe cuts to reimbursement on both federal and state levels,” said Tim Moore, chief executive officer of the Mississippi Hospital Association.
Moore added, “Hospitals are finding it very difficult to adjust financially to the almost $3 billion of federal cuts to be experienced by Mississippi hospitals over the next 10 years. Any restoration in funding to our state’s hospitals is truly appreciated. We look forward to working with the governor, his staff and the state Legislature in the months ahead to find creative ways to relieve the financial burdens that have been placed on providers across our great state.”
At least two hospitals, including North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo, have announced recent layoffs. In those instances, federal cuts have been cited as one of the reasons for the workforce reductions.
It has been estimated that by expanding Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level, as is allowed by new federal law, that health care would be provided to about 300,000 primarily working Mississippians.
Democrats have pointed out that according to Bryant’s Medicaid officials the expansion would cost the state $7 million the first year for $70 million in federal funds and over a seven-year period will cost the state a cumulative $450 million while receiving $8.6 billion in federal funds.
Bryant remains adamant that the state cannot afford the expansion.
“Expanding Medicaid…would ultimately require tax increases or cuts to other services the state provides,” he said.
Medicaid currently covers about 645,000 Mississippians – the elderly, disabled, poor pregnant women and poor children.