Singing River Health System faces $88 million shortage

PASCAGOULA, MS (WLOX) - Officials at Singing River Health Systems revealed Monday that their former auditor overestimated the amount of money the hospital would collect from uninsured and underinsured patients by millions. The amount dates back to 2008. Monday, they broke the news to the Jackson County Board of Supervisors in executive session before meeting with the media.

Singing River Health System provides healthcare for a quarter million people in the six southern counties, as well as Alabama. Yet, there is a possibility $88 million in bills will go unpaid.

"The amount of uncompensated care that we generate every year is growing every year, and it is the largest it has ever been," CEO Kevin Holland said. "This is a very difficult time in the industry."

According to CEO Kevin Holland, Singing River recently hired a new audit firm which uncovered some errors. Basically, the past projections overestimated how much money would come in for the services provided.

"For the five years or so leading up 2012, it's about $61 million. That number averages up to about three percent of our expected net revenue collects over a period of years. For 2013, with our new audit firm, we expect the number to be about $27 million.

Jackson County owns the health system and backs its bonds, but doesn't provide direct funding.  Supervisor Melton Harris said he wasn't surprised to learn the hospitals are facing some money challenges.

"We knew the problem would come with our state refusing to expand Medicaid. We know earlier the problem that it was not only imposing on Singing River Hospital, but hospitals across our state," Harris said.

Mississippi is one of at least 20 states which did not expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Hospital leaders said that move has left more bills unpaid.

"You don't go to Walmart without the ability to pay for the services and get a bunch of stuff and don't pay for them. Healthcare is different," Holland said.

Holland said Singing River Health System won't stop providing the care patients expect, but leaders will just have to find a way to adjust to the financial challenges everyone in healthcare faces.

SRHS officials said they will continue to work aggressively to collect the money they are due. They also plan to continue to lobby state legislators to expand Medicaid.

Copyright 2014 WLOX. All rights reserved.