Health officials support Medicaid expansion

May 24th, 2013

 Medicaid expansion was the topic of discussion Thursday when hospital executives and health care experts met at Forrest General.

Under the new federal health care reform legislation ….(read more)— otherwise known as the Affordable Care Act — states will not face penalties for choosing not to participate in Medicaid expansion.

The Mississippi Legislature ended the 2013 session without a debate on the program — and without passing reauthorization or funding bills. Without a reauthorization bill, the state’s Division of Medicaid will expire July 1. But many hope Gov. Phil Bryant will call a special session before then to discuss Medicaid.

According to Mississippi Health Care Access, Medicaid expansion would provide coverage to approximately 310,000 Mississippians, a majority of which is the “working poor.”

“This fiscal year — which will finish up on Sept. 30 — we will give out approximately $150 million in uncompensated care in our five-hospital system,” Forrest General CEO Evan Dillard said. “What’s important to all the hospitals in Mississippi is that conversations take place at the state level to increase access to health care for Mississippians.”

Individuals who would qualify for Medicaid through expansion are people earning too much to qualify for Medicaid and too little to qualify for subsidies to purchase insurance through a Health Insurance Exchange.

Dr. Joe Campbell, chairman of anesthesiology and a chief medical officer at Forrest General Hospital, said those people who fall through the cracks often wait until they’re very sick before they go the the doctor — so sick, in some cases, an immediate trip to the emergency room is necessary. This leads to increased costs for the hospital and poorer health for patients, according to Campbell.

“What was a few dollars in blood pressure medicine becomes a ruptured aneurysm that will cost the hospital tens to hundreds of thousands of dollars to treat,” he said. “This, with uninsured patients, is paid for by the local hospital, leaving less money to pay personnel and buy equipment.

“The end result for the patient involves either misery or death. This is not an exaggeration — it happens to me every day in the Forrest General operating room in one form or another.”

Sara Miller, senior policy analyst with the Mississippi Economic Policy Center, said Medicaid expansion will bring in more than $1 billion to the state and will create 9,000 new jobs in the health care industry.

“We have an unprecedented economic opportunity before us,” Miller said. “These workers will spend their salaries largely in the local economy, expanding the impact of those federal dollars.”

Campbell warned that not expanding Medicaid would set Mississippi’s health care system back even further — something he said the state can ill afford.

“Mississippi is both the poorest and the most unhealthy population in the country, and we also have the lowest physician-to-population ratio and poorest health care access of any state,” he said. “(Not expanding) would necessitate layoffs, limiting services and the freezing of equipment procurement.

“Some hospitals and nursing homes will close altogether, putting us further behind the rest of the country in health care, and one of the few stable employer categories in Mississippi will become very unstable.”

Dillard said every official in Mississippi needs to work together for Medicaid expansion for the betterment of the state.

“This is not just a Forrest General issue — this is an issue for every hospital in Mississippi,” he said. “But right now, the discussions on this have been absent for approximately 30 to 45 days.

“We hope the leadership in Jackson — both parties — take this seriously and get together and find a solution with the help of the hospitals.”



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