I have been involved in Mississippi health care for 50 years. During that time, I have served as a physician, Vice Chancellor at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, and as Executive Director for the Division of Medicaid.
For too long, I have observed the debate regarding how to fund the Medicaid program. This program provides vital health insurance to hundreds of thousands of our family, friends, and neighbors. Historically, it has had to fight for every dollar that it receives from the Mississippi Legislature.
It seems that some people have forgotten for whom the program was established. The program was established for the benefit of low-income and medically needy individuals. Its intention was to provide reasonable payment to health care providers who serve these citizens of our state.
The attention for the last several years has been on funding hospitals; particularly the collection of an assessment from hospitals to help fund Medicaid. For years, Mississippi’s public hospitals repaid a portion of their Medicaid payments to the state so that the program would have sufficient funds to reimburse other hospitals. In 2005, the federal government stopped this practice of what they termed as “recycling” federal funds. Mississippi was like other states that operated a similar system, but we were one of the last states to have its funding method disallowed.
Four years later, the Legislature has not implemented a permanent funding mechanism to replace these funds. It is time to permanently fund the Medicaid program.
I am greatly concerned regarding the lack of responsibility the Mississippi Hospital Association and our hospitals have taken regarding the funding of the program. Many of these hospitals are non-profit hospitals which pay little or no taxes in the first place. It is time for hospitals to step up and do their share to help fund this program. Despite their protests over insufficient pay, many hospitals are fully reimbursed for their costs of providing care for Medicaid patients. In fact, some hospitals are paid more than their costs.
The Mississippi Hospital Association and some hospitals will argue that it is the state’s responsibility to fund the Medicaid program. Certainly, the state does have a responsibility to fund the program; however, when a significant portion of these hospitals are non-profit and/or government-owned and therefore pay no taxes into the state general fund, where is the money going to come from for the Legislature to appropriate? Doctors, dialysis centers, dentists and pharmacists are not operated as non-profits – they pay their taxes. Many hospitals do not.
I encourage my former colleagues to step up to the plate and fund their fair share of this vital program. I encourage my friends in the Legislature to put aside partisanship and implement a funding model to permanently fund the $90 million needed by Medicaid.
The citizens of this state, particularly our family, friends and neighbors who depend upon this program, deserve better.
A. Wallace Conerly, M.D., is Vice Chancellor Emeritus of the University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson.