Hospitals not sure if new law can help

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 2, 1999

As President Clinton poises his pen this week to sign the &uot;Medicare, Medicaid and State Children’s Health Insurance Program Balanced Budget Refinement Act of 1999,&uot; local health care officials are wondering how much good it will do.

Will it have lasting relief for the cash strapped healthcare industry or is it merely a Band-aid for a financial hemorrhage?

The bill restores $17 billion over five years in Medicare and Medicaid cuts that had been mandated by the Balanced Budget Act of 1997.

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Since approximately $200 billion has been cut already from the Medicare program under the BBA, healthcare industry insiders say more work is yet to be done.

&uot;It’s important to realize this is only a first step,&uot; said Brent Alexander, vice president for government relations and communications at the Mississippi Hospital Association.

&uot;With many hospitals still facing financial disaster, the fixes aren’t complete. As we did this year, we’ll continue to fight any moves to further reduce Medicare payments to providers and to build on our campaign to provide the right relief for our patients and our hospitals.&uot;

Billy Gillon, president of the board of trustees for Natchez Regional Medical Center said the legislative relief won’t make much of a difference in NRMC’s bottom line.

&uot;I don’t at this point know the full economic impact on our hospital, but we’re losing about $5 million a year from the Balanced Budget Act, and the relief is a small fraction of that,&uot; he said.

The $17 billion relief under the Balanced Budget Refinement Act against the $200 billion cut from Medicare under the original BBA represents an 8 percent reduction in cutbacks to hospitals.

&uot;If you follow that analogy, we’d save $400,000 out of the $5 million we’d lose,&uot; Gillon said.

Sam Cameron, MHA&160;president and CEO, thanked Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott in particular for his involvement in getting the Balanced Budget Refinement Act passed.

&uot;In the final days of the debate, Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott really stood up for Mississippi’s health care community,&uot; Cameron said. &uot;He was the lead negotiator and helped craft the final relief package.&uot;

&uot;We’re certainly glad to hear that,&uot; said Lee Youngblood, spokesman for Lott. &uot;Senator Lott has been working on some relief for rural hospitals for months – starting with a letter he sent to the Health Care Financing Administration this summer.&uot;

Youngblood acknowledged that Lott still plans to address the long term problems of the Medicare program.

The Balanced Budget Refinement Act &uot;was a good step forward to alleviate the situation,&uot; Youngblood said.

&uot;Then we need to evaluate it’s impact and take the next step.&uot;