Pickering to study viability of hospitals

By Bobby Harrison/NEMS Daily Journal

JACKSON – State Auditor Stacey Pickering said he is concerned about accessibility to health care that will be lost if the state’s community-owned hospitals do not remain viable.
Pickering, speaking recently to the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute of Government/capitol press corps luncheon group, said his office will be conducting a study of the issues surrounding the hospitals.
“I am very concerned about the community-owned hospitals and the accessibility to health care and the viability they have,” said Pickering. He noted that the county-owed hospital in Laurel being open probably saved his father’s life last year and ensured a complete recovery when he suffered a stroke.
Pickering said he is concerned about how provisions of the Federal Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act and other factors would affect the hospitals. Throughout the year, the Mississippi Hospital Association and many hospital administrators have expressed concerns that if the state does not expand Medicaid to cover those earning up to 138 percent of the federal poverty level as is allowed by the Affordable Care Act, many local hospitals would be negatively impacted.
Part of the reason for the projected negative impact on hospitals is that the Affordable Care Act changes the way hospitals are reimbursed for uncompensated care. The ACA presumes that with more people receiving Medicaid, fewer people will need uncompensated care. Thus, part of the funds to pay for the ACA are derived from greatly reducing over a period of time the federal payments for uncompensated care to the hospitals.
The Legislature just finished a special session where efforts to expand Medicaid were blocked by Gov. Phil Bryant and the Republican leadership of the Legislature.
Pickering said the issues he wants to study cover more than the Medicaid expansion. He said the issues cover the changing economics in health care and how the governments that own the hospitals should determine when the health care facilities should be sold.
In recent months, there have been discussions about what would happen to many of the state’s hospitals. Some have said that unless the state expands Medicaid, hospitals would be forced to reduce services, lay off employees and, in some cases, might be forced to close.
“The first people I want to talk about work in your community hospitals as nurses, janitors, managers, medical coders, and cafeteria workers,” Sam Cameron, chief executive of the Mississippi Hospital Association, said in March.
“Many of them work in small, rural hospitals that are struggling to keep their doors open already, and they face potential layoffs if we don’t expand Medicaid eligibility.”
Pickering said he wanted to determine which hospitals are facing economic difficulties and why.
Not only are the community-owed hospitals important for the health care they provide, but they are economic engines in the local communities,” Pickering said. He said if the hospitals close, they will have dire economic consequences in the communities they serve.
Pickering hopes to have the report finished by early next year.
He said he will focus on the community-owned hospitals, but the results of the report will be applicable to for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals in the state as well.
According to a report by the Kaiser Family Foundation, 41 hospitals in the state are owned by local governments or the state, 27 are not-for-profit and 28 are for-profit. North Mississippi Medical Center in Tupelo is a not-for-profit health care provider.
bobby.harrison@journalinc.com