Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann discusses legislative strategies to save hospitals and rectify staffing shortages during a press conference at the State Capitol, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2023. Credit: Vickie D. King/Mississippi Today

Lt. Gov. Delbert Hosemann said measures he’s pushing in the Senate will help with Mississippi’s hospital crisis “not just next year, but for the next generation.”

The Senate plan would provide immediate help to hospitals with grants, remove legal barriers to consolidation of small hospitals and try to incentivize nurses and doctors to stay in Mississippi.

Hosemann said he is also working with Mississippi Medicaid and Gov. Tate Reeves to see if Medicaid can increase reimbursement to hospitals for some services. But Hosemann, one of few GOP leaders open to Medicaid expansion through the federal Affordable Care Act, said he doesn’t foresee full expansion as a starter this year.

READ MORE: Poll: 80% of Mississippians favor Medicaid expansion

Senate leaders have drafted four bills, with a cost of about $111 million as part of the plan Hosemann announced. Hosemann said he worked extensively with the Mississippi Hospital Association and other hospital and health care leaders to come up with this plan. It would:

  • Provide $80 million in grants, to help shore hospitals’ flagging revenue and increased costs, which threaten closure of 38 rural hospitals across the state. SB 2372 would distribute money to hospitals based on the number of licensed beds and type of care. Hosemann said it would also require hospitals to provide data that lawmakers could use to overhaul the state’s health delivery system. He said adjustments are needed to meet demographic and other changes.
  • Change “anti-trust” laws or other state legal barriers to “collaboration and consolidation” of hospitals. Hosemann said SB2323, which has a mirror bill in the House, would not change the state’s certificate of need laws that limit where certain hospital beds and specialties can go, but that “our CON laws are due for a review” and will likely also be examined this year. For the long run, Hosemann said the state’s health care infrastructure needs to be reorganized and modernized to make facilities more financially viable.
  • Provide $6 million for a nurse loan repayment program. Hosemann said SB 2373 is a do-over of a bill passed last year that did not work to address the state’s drastic shortage, estimated at about 3,000 nurses. He said changes the House made last year and other issues derailed the program, but those issues are being worked out. The plan, using federal pandemic relief money, would provide $6,000 a year, for up to three years, for nurses who agree to work at Mississippi hospitals.
  • Provide $20 million for a nursing/allied health community college grant program. SB2371 would use federal pandemic funds, initially, for grants to help community colleges’ nursing and health programs. Hosemann said many of the programs have long waiting lists and shortage of faculty, equipment and infrastructure needed to train nurses. Hosemann noted the COVID-19 pandemic showed the importance of nurses and “our community colleges are leading the way in providing nurses throughout the state.”
  • Provide $5 million to help with hospital residency and fellowship programs. Also in SB2371, this proposal, funded by federal pandemic money, would help create new programs, or add capacity to existing residency and fellowship programs in medical or surgical specialty areas at Mississippi hospitals. Hosemann said the federal government provides reimbursement for some residents or fellowships at hospitals, but the initial startup costs are prohibitive, and this new plan would help. He said that hospitals report that a majority of doctors stay in areas where they do their residencies.

READ MORE: Democrats finalize hospital crisis plan, blast Republicans for inaction

Hosemann on Wednesday also reiterated his support for extending postpartum Medicaid coverage for new mothers from 60 days to a year. The Senate passed such measures last year, but they were killed in the House.

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“We won the pro-life case, and now we’re unwilling to take care of our moms?” Hosemann said. “I don’t understand how you can make that argument.”

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Geoff Pender serves as senior political reporter, working closely with Mississippi Today leadership on editorial strategy and investigations. Pender brings 30 years of political and government reporting experience to Mississippi Today. He was political and investigative editor at the Clarion Ledger, where he also penned a popular political column. He previously served as an investigative reporter and political editor at the Sun Herald, where he was a member of the Pulitzer Prize-winning team for Hurricane Katrina coverage. Originally from Florence, Mississippi, Pender is a journalism graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi and has received numerous awards throughout his career for reporting, columns and freedom of information efforts.