January 19, 2012 12:43:00 PM
By EMILY WAGSTER PETTUS
JACKSON -- The leader of the Mississippi Hospital Association says his group won't fight renewal of a tax his members pay to help fund Medicaid.
The association protested in 2009 when then-Gov. Haley Barbour pushed for the hospital tax.
Now, the association's president and CEO, Sam Cameron, says the tax gives hospitals something very important -- predictability in their expenses.
"It's no question that it has cost us some financial negative impact for some of the hospitals," Cameron said Tuesday. "But very honestly, without it, the funding of the Medicaid program would not be there."
Medicaid is a government health insurance program for the needy. For every dollar Mississippi puts into it, the federal government pays almost three.
Some of the state's portion of Medicaid funding comes from the hospital tax. Cameron said the tax is based on a formula so complicated that hospitals rely on consultants to crunch numbers and make sure everyone is paying what they're supposed to pay.
The tax is set to expire June 30 unless lawmakers renew it this session.
Officials say the hospital tax generates about $200 million a year, and that money is multiplied with the federal match.
Gov. Phil Bryant, who took office Jan. 10, said he supports renewing the hospital tax because the state can't afford to replace the Medicaid money that would be lost if the tax disappears.
"I think they understand with the cost of Medicaid and where we're at in revenue and budgets, there just aren't too many other places we can go for that particular revenue for Medicaid," Bryant said Tuesday, responding to reporters' questions before he spoke at a Mississippi Hospital Association luncheon in downtown Jackson.
Bryant did not mention the hospital tax during his speech.
Barbour and Bryant are both Republicans, and both campaigned on keeping taxes low. However, Barbour pushed the hospital tax as something that would ultimately help the hospitals by keeping federal money flowing into the state for Medicaid. Because Mississippi is one of the poorest states in the nation, it has one of the most generous federal payment rates for Medicaid.
Mississippi hospitals had paid one form of tax to help fund Medicaid for about a dozen years until the federal government blocked it in 2005.
From 2005 to 2009, Barbour tried to persuade lawmakers to pass a revised version of the tax. He won the political battle in June 2009, as lawmakers met in special session to pass a comprehensive state budget for the fiscal year that was only hours from beginning.
Cameron said Tuesday that tax enacted in 2009 included guarantees that the state could not arbitrarily cut Medicaid services or limit the number of inpatient hospital days it would pay for Medicaid patients. He said that gave hospitals "a measure of comfort" about their finances.
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