Hospital execs plead case to senators

Published 12:00 am Thursday, September 9, 1999

Thirty-six Mississippi hospital administrators went to Washington Wednesday and delivered a message to Mississippi’s senators: Stop Medicare cuts to hospitals or face massive health care gaps.

Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott, R-Miss. said Thursday he is concerned about the condition of health care in his home state.

&uot;I’m concerned about Mississippi’s hospitals,&uot; Lott said from his Capitol Hill office. &uot;It’s important to keep strong regional hospitals, but it is very important to keep our rural hospitals. That’s the only medical care some people have for miles.&uot;

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Lott met for one and a half hours Wednesday with a group of hospital administrators who included Natchez Community Hospital Executive Director Raymond Bane. &uot;The message coming across yesterday was we can’t wait a year to work on this. Something has to be done before Oct. 1,&uot; Bane said.

Lott and Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., met with the hospital administrators group separately during the day Wednesday. Bane said both senators listened attentively to the group as the administrators went around the room listing the drastic measures taken at their individual institutions to cope with the funding cuts.

&uot;We’re talking as an example, Rush Hospital in&160;Meridian has laid off 300 employees and cut services,&uot; Bane said.

When Congress passed the Balanced Budget Act in 1997, the cuts to Medicare and Medicaid were reasonable, Lott said.

&uot;HCFA has misapplied the law,&uot; he said. &uot;HCFA has cut about twice what we thought it would be.&uot;

Lott said he has tried to communicate this message to the Health Care Financing Administration, but has heard no response. &uot;It’s no use to just say that HCFA isn’t dealing honestly,&uot; he said. &uot;I have staff members working on this issue to see what can be done.&uot;

But Bane said the funding problem for hospitals often snowballs. &uot;We’re trying to tell him when you close a small rural hospital, patients are forced to go to a regional medical center. These additional patients will overload them. When flu season hits this fall and winter, there won’t be enough beds,&uot; Bane said.

The problem of Medicare is a complex one, Lott said.

&uot;It isn’t a one-shot problem and it certainly won’t have a one-shot answer,&uot; he said.

Medicare, the government-funded insurance program for the elderly and disabled, was scheduled to go broke in 2007, Lott said. The current cuts have extended the program’s life expectancy to 2010 or 2012, he said.

In general, Lott said he believes that the Balanced Budget Act was a necessary step, but the cuts in reimbursements to hospitals must be &uot;modulated&uot; over the next two years.

While Lott has put his staff to work on the problem of underfunded hospitals, Cochran indicated he plans to introduce legislation to reduce the cuts to hospitals.

&uot;We’re getting ready for a visit from HCFA to Mississippi in September to see what the changes have been,&uot; Cochran told the administrators on Wednesday.

&uot;But that’s not going to be enough,&uot; he said. &uot;We need legislation.&uot;

Cochran said there is a short window of opportunity to submit appropriation bills this month. &uot;We may fold our legislation into an appropriation bill,&uot; Cochran said.

Bane said he didn’t expect immediate results from his visit to Washington, but he was glad he went.

&uot;I got a good feeling for going up there,&uot; he said. &uot;You can sit back on the local level and complain, or you can go up there and do something.&uot;