CHARLIE MITCHELL: Tax breaks OK’d as bait for bigger hospitals in state

By Charlie Mitchell

OXFORD – The words “organized” and “health care delivery” are spoken in sequence in America, except when expressed as a wish.
Indeed, more than a few people reading this may be in their third or fourth hour of a waiting room vigil. At some point they’ll be called to an exam room. Most will be told (1) more tests are needed, (2) more pills are needed and/or (3) come back in another six weeks.
Of course, they are the lucky ones. They got an appointment. They got to see a physician or nurse. They might have gotten a correct diagnosis and be on the path to a cure. Lots of people in America and Mississippi don’t have that opportunity. But it is hard to feel fortunate during the waiting room waits or the weeks, months and sometimes years of bills and insurance forms that seem to follow any encounter with a hospital or clinic.
Health care science in America is absolutely dazzling. Every day people walk away from illnesses and injuries that would have meant certain disability or death to their parents.
Health care delivery is the exact opposite. It is abysmal. The delays, the mistakes, the quasi-polite receptionists, the unreasonable costs, the nightmarish piles of paperwork and the labyrinthine system of figuring out who owes how much to whom for what stagger even the best navigators of bureaucratic nonsense.
Congress has entered the affray, albeit reluctantly, to fix everything, but via legislation that even the authors aren’t so sure about. Still, regardless of where the U.S. Supreme Court comes down on legal challenges to “Obamacare,” government involvement in health care is entrenched and expensive. That’s not going to change.
The dollars have gotten the attention of Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant. No doubt Bryant is also compassionate and wants people to receive good health care, but he’s not talking about opening up carefully located free clinics in underserved areas of the state. He’s not talking about improving access. He knows big medicine is big business and he has kept a campaign promise. He has shepherded to passage legislation to give big tax breaks to big providers in hopes of one medical mega-center or more finding its way to Mississippi.
To stress, we’re not talking about chump change. From 1999 until 2009, health spending in America doubled from $1.3 trillion to $2.6 trillion. In more direct terms, the average four-person household now consumes $30,000 worth of health services annually. That’s more than $20 per person, per day, seven days a week.
Some are concerned that “Obamacare” equates to “socialized medicine.” Consider this: Today, the government outlay for health care in the United States, where only the poor, elderly and disabled get “free” services, is already more per capita than in nations such as Sweden, France, Germany, Canada or Great Britain where everything is “free,” cradle to grave.
No nation comes near us in our individual demand for and consumption of medical services.
So the Legislature passed and Bryant has signed authorization to create Health Care Zones. These zones will be limited to counties that have been assigned certificates of need for 375 or more hospital beds. Translated, that means very few areas will qualify – Hinds, Harrison, Forest, Desoto and maybe Lauderdale.
In those counties, especially Hinds, Bryant envisions medical complexes akin to those in Houston, Memphis and New Orleans.
Medical investors who spend as little as $10 million and create 25 jobs would, in turn, get the full range of tax breaks. These corporations would pay no sales tax on purchases and no local property or school taxes (if approved by county supervisors). They could claim accelerated depreciation and bask in a bevy of breaks. (An interesting side point is that none of these taxes were due back in the day hospitals were nonprofit and operated on a break-even basis, but that’s another discussion.)
The governor’s goal, quite obviously and quite commendable, is to have Mississippi (again, especially the state capital) become a health care destination. The plan is to slow the flow of health care dollars to neighboring states. Mississippi is coming late to the game. But because there’s every indication that health care spending will continue to increase, it’s a game worth joining.
Of course, what health care consumers would prefer would be shorter waits, simpler forms and less expensive pills.
Currently, however, that’s not the priority.
Charlie Mitchell is a Mississippi journalist. Write to him at Box 1, University, MS 38677, or email cmitchell43@yahoo.com.