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Mississippi hospitals face financial struggles, especially those in rural areas


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Hospitals across Mississippi are facing a major struggle: the discontinuing of services and, for some, the brink of closure.Over the years, the hospital industry has taken a major blow with factors like the pandemic, staffing shortages and a rise in labor costs. According to data from the Mississippi Hospital Association, in 2019, hospital expenses exceeded $11 million per month, averaging about $132 million that year.Two years later, in 2021, the state had approximately $594 million in uncompensated care. The numbers reveal that while costs since 2019 have spiked to over 20%, the revenue did not.”Trying to find a way for our hospitals to absorb that cost is becoming more and more difficult because the margins are getting smaller and smaller,” said Tim Moore, president and CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association.According to State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney, 38 rural hospitals could possibly close, which is more than half of the state’s total rural hospitals.”We’re seeing a tremendous effect on the Mississippi Delta with basically all the facilities in the Delta. And that’s not where it stops,” Moore said.Even in Jackson, hospitals like Merit Health Central are discontinuing many services. The hospital in south Jackson once housed the state’s only burn center, which closed in October. Leaders said Medicaid is a major contributor to the conversation. State lawmakers like Rep. Robert Johnson, explain the growing insurance gap within Mississippi.”That patient mix, that payer mix in those counties is made up of disproportionate amount of people who are working people, who are not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, but still are being seen at a hospital. That hospital is not getting compensated,” Johnson said.The gap in unpaid services is having a trickling effect on commercial payers.”It makes it hard for us to let a company sell a policy to a consumer knowing that they can’t get health care in the Delta. And that’s our major concern. That’s how we get involved in the health care,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Cheney. “If we had expanded Medicaid, would we have saved the Delta rural hospitals? I’m not saying it would’ve been a pain to see, or a silver bullet, but it certainly would’ve helped them stay alive today.””The health care structure in the country, with these public hospitals, is set up in the way that says, ‘OK, here’s the money that you need to treat people. Take care of people and keep your doors open.’ Mississippi is saying, ‘We don’t want it,'” Johnson said. Mississippi is one of 12 states that has refused to expand Medicaid. And while some leaders agree Medicaid expansion could make a difference, there’s also a fear that the relief can now only help to a certain degree.”Our hospitals have gotten to an economic position now, Medicaid expansion alone will not create the saving grace for all our hospitals,” Moore said.So, what happens next? The Mississippi Hospital Association has drafted several solutions, which include reducing or eliminating the hospital provider tax, creating low payment pools and implementing a rural hospital access payment program. Because, without certain measures in place, health care leaders and legislators warn of a scary future.”It’s a matter of life and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Johnson said. “People being able to live. People being able to survive an accident. People being able to get treated.”

Hospitals across Mississippi are facing a major struggle: the discontinuing of services and, for some, the brink of closure.

Over the years, the hospital industry has taken a major blow with factors like the pandemic, staffing shortages and a rise in labor costs. According to data from the Mississippi Hospital Association, in 2019, hospital expenses exceeded $11 million per month, averaging about $132 million that year.

Two years later, in 2021, the state had approximately $594 million in uncompensated care. The numbers reveal that while costs since 2019 have spiked to over 20%, the revenue did not.

“Trying to find a way for our hospitals to absorb that cost is becoming more and more difficult because the margins are getting smaller and smaller,” said Tim Moore, president and CEO of the Mississippi Hospital Association.

According to State Health Officer Dr. Daniel Edney, 38 rural hospitals could possibly close, which is more than half of the state’s total rural hospitals.

“We’re seeing a tremendous effect on the Mississippi Delta with basically all the facilities in the Delta. And that’s not where it stops,” Moore said.

Even in Jackson, hospitals like Merit Health Central are discontinuing many services. The hospital in south Jackson once housed the state’s only burn center, which closed in October.

Leaders said Medicaid is a major contributor to the conversation. State lawmakers like Rep. Robert Johnson, explain the growing insurance gap within Mississippi.

“That patient mix, that payer mix in those counties is made up of disproportionate amount of people who are working people, who are not covered by Medicaid or Medicare, but still are being seen at a hospital. That hospital is not getting compensated,” Johnson said.

The gap in unpaid services is having a trickling effect on commercial payers.

“It makes it hard for us to let a company sell a policy to a consumer knowing that they can’t get health care in the Delta. And that’s our major concern. That’s how we get involved in the health care,” said Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Cheney. “If we had expanded Medicaid, would we have saved the Delta rural hospitals? I’m not saying it would’ve been a pain to see, or a silver bullet, but it certainly would’ve helped them stay alive today.”

“The health care structure in the country, with these public hospitals, is set up in the way that says, ‘OK, here’s the money that you need to treat people. Take care of people and keep your doors open.’ Mississippi is saying, ‘We don’t want it,'” Johnson said.

Mississippi is one of 12 states that has refused to expand Medicaid. And while some leaders agree Medicaid expansion could make a difference, there’s also a fear that the relief can now only help to a certain degree.

“Our hospitals have gotten to an economic position now, Medicaid expansion alone will not create the saving grace for all our hospitals,” Moore said.

So, what happens next? The Mississippi Hospital Association has drafted several solutions, which include reducing or eliminating the hospital provider tax, creating low payment pools and implementing a rural hospital access payment program. Because, without certain measures in place, health care leaders and legislators warn of a scary future.

“It’s a matter of life and death. That’s what we’re talking about,” Johnson said. “People being able to live. People being able to survive an accident. People being able to get treated.”



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