Mississippi Considers Easing Restrictions on Public Hospitals

JACKSON, Mississippi. On Friday, the Mississippi State Senate voted to ease some restrictions on public hospitals, allowing them to merge or partner with healthcare providers outside of their current service areas.

Republican Senator Joey Fillingane of Sumrall said the bill is an attempt to maintain access to health care in a state where several hospitals are facing financial difficulties as they serve large numbers of uninsured patients.

“There are all sorts of barriers that we are trying to remove to allow these hospitals to have as much flexibility as possible in order to survive and thrive,” Fillingane said.

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According to current state law, public public hospitals are not allowed to operate outside the service areas established when they first opened, he said. These areas are usually limited to city or county boundaries or a little further. Removing some of the barriers will allow these hospitals to merge or work together while sharing some business functions, Fillingane said.

Senators voted 48-0 to pass the bill, sending it to the House of Representatives for more work.

In November, a state health official, Dr. Dan Edney, told lawmakers that 54% of Mississippi’s rural hospitals could close due to financial pressure. Mississippi has a large population of uninsured residents, and healthcare facilities have faced rising costs during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The rural, impoverished Delta has lost population over the past few years, and some hospitals in the area are cutting services and cutting jobs.

Mississippi is one of the poorest states with high rates of heart disease, diabetes and other diseases. It is also among 11 states that have not expanded Medicaid for people working in low-paying jobs that do not provide private health insurance. The expansion is an option under the federal health care law signed into law in 2010 by former President Barack Obama.

Legislative Democrats said Mississippi is losing about $1 billion in federal money each year due to the failure to expand Medicaid. Republican Gov. Tate Reeves has publicly opposed putting more people into the state and federal government-funded health insurance program.

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