Monday, September 16, 2013

Hattiesburg Hospital Takes Financial Hit; Others Likely

It has been argued for months that without Mississippi expanding access to Medicaid services, some hospitals across the state would continue bleeding red ink. We noted a case in Hancock County last month, and now we're reading that the Forrest Health System, based in Hattiesburg, is feeling the financial pinch of having more patients to treat without the financial resources to do so.

Forrest Health is expecting a $2.5 million loss in its FY 2014 budget. Those aren't numbers to take lightly. They are already losing nearly $4 million in support payments made by the federal government to treat low-income persons. The Chief Financial Officer of the Forrest General Hospital hoped for Medicaid expansion to occur, but we know that did not happen.

Rep. Toby Barker (R-Hattiesburg)
During this summer's Medicaid special session, the tea party-led Legislature rejected a proposal to expand Medicaid eligibility in the state. Among those voting no were Hattiesburg's Representative, Toby Barker. This expansion would assist his financially-strapped hospital by plugging financial holes so they can continue offering services without interruption. Let's not forget that the Forrest Health System is one of the largest employers in the area. All that aside, Barker took his marching orders from Speaker Gunn and voted against a plan that would have helped his hospitals and his district.
Sen. Billy Hudson (R-Hattiesburg)
On the other side of the Capitol, Hattiesburg Senator Billy Hudson was a lonely Republican when it came to Medicaid expansion. Hudson was quoted by the Hattiesburg American as saying, "If the money's not there and they (Forrest General Hospital) starts laying off people, it's going to hurt." He went on to say that "I’m told there’s about 6,000 jobs (in the Pine Belt medical industry), and that’s tremendous to the economy, even if you don’t care about poor people or sick people who need help — which I do," ... "We go crazy about getting a new industry in here that’s going to work (200 or 300) people at $11 an hour." Even the Republican President of the Forrest County Board of Supervisors acknowledges this isn't a partisan issue: it's an economic one.

Hudson understands the economic and human impact the Forrest Health System has on the Pine Belt region. Barker, on the other hand, seems more interested in following the tea party leadership of Speaker Gunn. While Barker is falling in line, one of his district's largest employers is pleading for assistance in staying afloat.

Sadly, the cases in Hancock and Forrest Counties are just the beginning. As more hospitals look at their balance sheets in the coming years, there will likely be more of them sounding the alarm that the Legislature needs to revisit its misguided approach to expanded access to Medicaid.

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