March 12, 2013 9:18:31 AM
JACKSON -- The Mississippi Hospital Association announced Monday that it's working with Gov. Phil Bryant's office to address budget constraints resulting from the Affordable Care Act amid Bryant's ongoing opposition to the federal health care overhaul.
Claude Harbarger, leader of the MHA Board of Governors, said he is grateful that Bryant is willing to work toward a solution. He said the state's hospitals are already losing millions of dollars as they begin to implement the Affordable Care Act.
Chris Anderson, C.E.O. of Singing River Health System in Gautier, who supports expansion, said it was time to stop talking about expansion and start exploring alternatives.
"It has not been productive saying you're either for it or against it," Anderson said. "That's really not gotten us anywhere thus far in the session. So the interest now is saying, 'is there anything between these two positions that we can all agree on?'"
No specific proposals were offered by the hospital association, which held a news conference Monday in Madison.
The announcement by what was the most important group to have pushed expansion came on the same day as a House hearing that showed little consensus on whether Medicaid expansion would represent a net loss or gain for Mississippi.
"Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act is likely the biggest issue this legislature or any other legislature has faced in decades," House Medicaid Committee Chairman Bobby Howell, R-Kilmichael, said at the start of a three-hour hearing.
Lucien Smith, deputy chief of staff and policy director for Gov. Phil Bryant, gave the first of six presentations. He argued before the packed hearing room that the expansion would cost hundreds of millions. But Smith said that even those who support the expansion should wait before making up their minds.
"Making an error on Medicaid expansion will be incredibly costly, and secondly, it's premature to make a decision on it," Smith said.
Part of that argument comes from an unclear picture of how Disproportionate Share Hospital funding would change over the next few years. Those funds are used to help pay back hospitals that serve a large share of uninsured citizens. The funding stream is scheduled to be reduced, but presenters at the hearing said they're not yet sure by how much.
Theresa Hannah, Executive Director of the Center for Mississippi Health Policy, told the committee that many of the uninsured don't receive preventative care. She offered statistics showing what she said was the devastating impact on Mississippians. The state has the highest rate of diabetes-related leg amputations, according to Hannah, and while it has one of the lowest rates of breast cancer, it has one of the highest rates of death from breast cancer.
Rep. Sherra Hillman Lane, D-Waynesboro asked the committee to take into account the costs incurred when the state's citizens lack preventative care and end up getting costly medical treatments like dialysis or chemotherapy because their conditions are out of control. She also appealed to lawmakers' compassion.
"I would submit to you that the intangible cost, would you agree with me, that if that's your loved one, as the commercials say, it would be priceless?" Lane asked Smith.
Rep. Brad Mayo, R-Oxford, said he calculated the expansion combined with the otherwise rising rate of Medicaid enrollment would translate to a higher percentage of the state's citizens in the program.
"By my math, it looks like by 2022 we'd have about half of the population on Medicaid," Mayo said. Presenters couldn't confirm Mayo's prediction.
Rep. Cecil Brown, D-Jackson, asked Smith about comments he had made on the Paul Gallo radio show, quoting as Smith as saying that when people sign up for Medicaid it creates a new group of voters who will not vote Republican.
"Our problem with expansion is not political, it's that we don't think it's the right policy," Smith responded.