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Medicaid provider rates soon to be cut

The Legislature will soon allow the state’s Medicaid agency to lower the amount it pays hospitals to treat Medicaid patients. The House voted 67-45 Thursday to allow the Department of Health and Human Services to reduce provider rates for hospitals.

Democrats opposed the bill, saying it would hurt rural hospitals already struggling in the red. Rep. Jerry Govan (D-Orangeburg) said the legislature should have accepted an offer by hospitals to pay higher taxes instead.

This is not a win for patients, but a potential disaster for the state. These are the people who are in the business of taking care of us. They’re saying that this move doesn’t make sense. We should recognize and respect that.

However, Republicans opposed raising the taxes out of fear the hospitals would just pass along the extra cost to patients.

The agency says it needs to cut Medicaid payments to shave $7.5 million off its deficit. However, it is currently not allowed to make the adjustments due to existing state law.

Rep. B.R. Skelton (R-Pickens) said, in a rough economy, hospitals need to make sacrifices as well.

All this does is let them share some of the pain that others of us have shared. South Carolina is the only state that prohibits provider adjustments. The other 49 states have had to go through this and they have borne that burden.

He said Medicaid patients were not going to be denied medical help under the bill.

Democrats worried about the effect of the cuts on rural hospitals, especially those already running a deficit. Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg) said the facility in his home district could shut down if provider rates are cut too steeply. For that reason, he said he wants to delay the cuts as long as possible.

Each day that we’re here past April 4 (a deadline DHHS says it needs to immediately make the cuts), my hospital stays open, I keep people in work, and my citizens are going to love me because  they don’t have to travel to Orangeburg when they need emergency medical care.

However, Rep. Mac Toole (R-Lexington) disputed Sellers’s arguments, saying Bamberg’s hospital is facing severe financial problems that have nothing to do with Medicaid.

The biggest problem the rural hospitals were having is (the) volume… (The patients) were going to the larger hospitals for whatever reason. That was the biggest issue you’re facing, and that you’re going to continue facing in the future.

The vote fell entirely along party lines, with all supporting votes coming from Republicans and all opposing from Democrats. Seven members did not vote, mostly because they had some connection to the medical profession and wanted to avoid a conflict of interest.

The bill will go through some procedural votes next week before it officially passes. Governor Nikki Haley says she will sign it into law.

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