Hospitals caught in limbo as lawmakers fight clock

By Sylvia Hall - bio | email

JACKSON COUNTY, MS (WLOX)- Budget bills are finally breaking through the gridlock in Jackson, but Monday night, there were still no answers on Medicaid.

"This is an issue that affects hundreds of thousands of patients," said Singing River Health System's Vice President of Communications Richard Lucas.  "And it would appear that this should have been a priority from the beginning.  It's getting so frustrating."

Governor Barbour called a legislative session to convene Sunday to pass some of the special fund bilsl in the troublesom state budget before the new fiscal year begins July 1st.  Monday, he opened the floor to most of the bills in the general fund.

The controversial $90 million hospital tax that would be used to fund Medicaid, or insurance for underprivileged citizens, was intentionally left out to allow the others to pass.

"I'm not going to let the failure of Medicaid to be solved shut down the rest of state government if everything else was resolved," Barbour said Sunday.  "So with the agreement of everybody involved we came back to deal with everything but Medicaid. If we can reach a Medicaid agreement while we're here then we will expand from there."

Medicaid, and the hospital tax proposed to fund it have been a major roadblock in the budget process this year.  The state legislature has been faced with the task of creating a budget despite tremendous shortfalls in state revenue.  Barbour has pushed for the tax as the best way to fund Medicaid, but opponents worry that some hospitals, especially smaller ones in rural areas, couldn't stomach the tax.

The new fiscal year starts Wednesday, and with no common ground on the issue, hospitals state-wide face a budget debacle of their own.

That includes the hospitals in Singing River Health System.  Lucas said on a scale of 1-10, he would rate the Medicaid impasse a "10."

"We can't plan, we can't plan our own budget," Lucas said.  "We don't know what to tell our staff, because we don't know what's going to happen in Jackson."

Lucas told WLOX the difficulty would stay at the administrative level, and would not affect patient care.

"We'll continue to treat our patients," Lucas said.  "Our mission of course is to deliver world class health care to all our patients and we'll continue to do that for all our patients, including Medicaid patients, as long as we can."

There's no solid answer on how long that would be, but Lucas said he believes it would depend on each individual hospital.

"We really need a resolution on medicaid because at the end of the day its all about patients," he said.  "It should be about patients.  That's what we're about and we need to get Medicaid resolved and put the focus on the patients."

Barbour said he hopes there will be an agreement on the issue before Wendesday.  Several legislators said in their internet blogs Monday night they believe it will be soon.