Greenwood Leflore Hospital, Greenwood, Miss. Friday, August, 26, 2022. Credit: Eric Shelton/Mississippi Today

House leaders introduced and passed legislation Thursday to provide $80 million in state funds for financially challenged hospitals instead of expanding Medicaid to provide more than a $1 billion per year in federal funds for Mississippi’s litany of health care needs.

The bill passed the House overwhelmingly, though some members made it clear that the $80 million is nothing more than a “Band-Aid” and that much more needs to be done to address the hospital crisis.

During floor debate, Rep. Earl Banks, D-Jackson, asked House Public Health Chair Sam Mims, R-McComb, how many years would state funds be used to provide grants to hospitals. Mims said he did not know.

“If Medicaid would be expanded, which I understand would bring about $1 billion, then it probably would not be necessary to give them $80 million and we could use those funds for other things,” said Rep. Earl Banks, D-Jackson.

Mims replied, “This piece of legislation has nothing to do with expanding Medicaid.”

Mims and other Republican leaders, such as Speaker Philip Gunn and Gov. Tate Reeves, have opposed expanding Medicaid to provide health care coverage for primarily the working poor. They say they oppose expanding government programs and also contend the state cannot afford the cost of expanding Medicaid.

The federal government pays 90% of the health case costs of those covered through Medicaid expansion. Various studies say that the 10% cost to the state for expanding Medicaid is minimal or would even result in net positive revenue for the state because of the cost savings associated with the expansion, such as reducing the amount of uncompensated costs hospitals incur.

Mississippi is one of just 11 states that haven’t expanded Medicaid.

READ MOREEvery Medicaid expansion bill dies without debate or vote

The Mississippi Senate passed similar legislation earlier this year providing $80 million grants to the hospitals. At some point the two chambers will have to agree on a single piece of legislation before hospitals can receive the funds.

Both legislative Republicans and Democrats have said $80 million in grants over a year’s time is not enough to deal with the financial issues facing most of the state’s about 110 hospitals. The Mississippi Hospital Association has endorsed expanding Medicaid, saying it would not solve all their problems but would provide much needed relief.

The $80 million passed by the House would be disbursed based on the number of beds each hospital has. It equates to an average of about $6,436 per bed.

Mims told House members he hopes that later in the legislative process, the amount of funds earmarked for hospitals can be increased before final passage.

Rep. Bryant Clark, D-Pickens, offered an amendment to increase the amount of the grants to $275 million.

“We can’t sit back and be a like an ostrich with our heads stuck in the sand and our butts pointed up at the sky,” Clark said. “Everybody in here knows we are right here in the midst of a health care crisis. Hospitals are closing.”

Both Clark’s amendment and one offered by Rep. John Hines, D-Greenville, were defeated along party line votes. Hines’ amendment would have created a study committee to look at the best options to ensure the financial viability of the state’s hospitals.

Reports indicate that at least 28 hospitals are on the brink of closure and many more are facing financial difficulties resulting in staff shortage and the closure of programs.

READ MORE‘Slightly more breathing room’: Fewer rural hospitals at risk of closure, but threat still looms

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Bobby Harrison, Mississippi Today’s senior capitol reporter, covers politics, government and the Mississippi State Legislature. He also writes a weekly news analysis which is co-published in newspapers statewide. A native of Laurel, Bobby joined our team June 2018 after working for the North Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo since 1984. He is president of the Mississippi Capitol Press Corps Association and works with the Mississippi State University Stennis Institute to organize press luncheons. Bobby has a bachelor's in American Studies from the University of Southern Mississippi and has received multiple awards from the Mississippi Press Association, including the Bill Minor Best Investigative/In-depth Reporting and Best Commentary Column.