RRMC delays cutting care for La. patients|[07/01/08]

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, July 1, 2008

River Region Medical Center has postponed a decision on whether to cut non-emergency care to Medicaid patients in Louisiana, hospital officials said Monday.

Instead, the hospital is awaiting the outcome of studies by the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals to re-examine the way the state reimburses out-of-state hospitals for providing extended care to patients in the government-run program.

“It is our strong desire to continue providing care to the Louisiana Medicaid patients who have made us their hospital of choice, so we hope that this situation can be resolved,” interim chief executive officer Brad Holland said in a statement reversing a drastic cut in services announced in May that was to be effective today.

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In the Louisiana legislative session that wrapped up June 23, lawmakers declined to take up a bill that would have made higher payments to out-of-state hospitals with at least 1,000 inpatient days in 2007. Instead, a study request authored by Sen. Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, was approved and forwarded to the Secretary of State’s Office.

The bill aimed to make payments commensurate with those made to Louisiana hospitals. Mississippians enrolled in the Medicaid program are not affected by the planned actions.

Created in 1965, the program for low-income and disabled people is administered by state health agencies and paid for with state and federal dollars. Discounts are negotiated by insurance companies, and payments are made according to government-set fee schedules regardless of the health-care provider’s charge.

Studies completed by the Legislative Fiscal Officer during the session showed payments to three Mississippi hospitals fitting the criteria would increase dramatically. Payment totals to River Region would have increased to more than $1.4 million, 63 percent more than what it is now paid for serving Medicaid patients from East Carroll, Madison and Tensas parishes. Payments to debt-strapped Natchez Regional Medical Center, the facility with the highest Louisiana Medicaid patient load in Mississippi, would increase $103.27 per Medicaid day under the deferred bill’s provisions. Natchez Community Hospital would recoup nearly $1,000 more per Medicaid day.

“We have been working tirelessly with Louisiana legislators,” Holland said. “We encourage them to address this situation in order to ensure the needs of people in communities such as Tallulah, Delta and Lake Providence can continue to have access to health-care services near their home.”

Any hike in reimbursements for hospitals not in Louisiana would begin a reverse of the state’s Medicaid policy implemented in 1999 restricting out-of-state Medicaid payments.

River Region’s patient base beyond Warren County includes Claiborne, Issaquena, Sharkey and Yazoo counties, plus western Hinds County. Its Louisiana patients have come from as far west as Delhi.

Changes at Warren County’s lone hospital have been steady since its former corporate parent, Triad Hospitals, merged with current parent Community Health Systems in 2007.

Physician teams have replaced on-staff cardiovascular surgeons, with the hospital considering the same as a supplement to its emergency room doctors. Its Marian Hill chemical dependency unit will move off McAuley Drive into the third floor of River Region West on North Frontage Road.

Holland was named CEO June 25 on a temporary basis as a national search is conducted to replace Phillip Clendenin, who announced his resignation. It becomes effective July 23.