Merit Health Natchez CEO: Additional Medicaid payments will ‘go a long way’

Published 1:48 pm Tuesday, February 6, 2024

NATCHEZ – The more than $6.1 million Merit Health Natchez received in additional federal Medicaid payments during January will “go a long way” in helping to fund services at the Natchez hospital.

We don’t turn anyone away from receiving high quality critically needed healthcare but that care still costs money in staff, equipment, supplies, and a myriad of other expenses. These funds will not only support Medicaid patients but will also provide much needed financial stability for our hospital, which ultimately then benefits the entire community.

The funds are part of Gov. Tate Reeves’ alternative to Medicaid expansion, which was announced in November 2023 after he won re-election. Reeves said he had requested changes that would bring in nearly $700 million to state hospitals, based on extra payments hospitals can receive for treating patients on Medicaid.

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In January, the Mississippi Hospital Access Program distributed $658.2 million to 116 hospitals, with hospitals Merit Health Natchez receiving $6,120,833.36.

“We are very appreciative of Gov. Reeves’s leadership in identifying ways to support health care for the most vulnerable in our community. The funds received will go a long way in helping fund Medicaid related health care services for thousands of families and patients in Natchez,” said Kevin Samrow, CEO of Merit Health Natchez.

In total, more than $7 million was awarded to area facilities, including:

• Field Memorial Community Hospital, $361,445.97

• Franklin County Memorial Hospital, $297,758

• Jefferson County Hospital, $214,850.99

The January disbursement did not include a second, much smaller portion of funding which is still under review. “We are hopeful that the federal government will also approve the second part of the governor’s proposal for the benefit of vulnerable Mississippians,” Samrow said.

Reeves’ plan increases the “bed tax” on Mississippi hospitals; in exchange, the hospitals can draw down more in federal Medicaid payments. The concept was introduced two years ago by hospital and GOP leaders in the Legislature, but failed to gain traction after Reeves’ Medicaid administration said it would not work.

Some hospital leaders have said this money, while needed, leaves unresolved the disproportionally high number of uninsured, working-class Mississippians who earn above the federal poverty level and cannot qualify for Medicaid but also cannot afford insurance. Medicaid expansion will increase the qualifying income threshold to 138 percent of the federal poverty level. For a family of four, that would be an annual income of $43,056.

Samrow said Merit Health Natchez, like other hospitals in Mississippi, is committed to providing care despite the challenges of lack of insurance coverage.

We don’t turn anyone away from receiving high quality critically needed healthcare but that care still costs money in staff, equipment, supplies, and a myriad of other expenses,” he said. “These funds will not only support Medicaid patients but will also provide much needed financial stability for our hospital, which ultimately then benefits the entire community.”

Proponents of Medicaid expansion cite the fact that nearly one in five Mississippians are uninsured, and the state continues to have some of the nation’s worst public health rates, including having the lowest life expectancy in the country.