published Thursday, February 28th, 2013

Hospitals vocal on TennCare expansion

 Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital is seen in this aerial file photo.
Chattanooga's Erlanger Hospital is seen in this aerial file photo.
Photo by Doug Strickland /Chattanooga Times Free Press.
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    Memorial Hospital is one of three major downtown hospitals.
    Photo by Angela Lewis.
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CHAMBER SUPPORTS MEDICAID EXPANSION

The Chattanooga Area Chamber of Commerce said Wednesday that it would back TennCare expansion out of concern for its impact on the local economy.

"After researching the issue thoroughly, the Chattanooga Chamber's public policy committee voted to support the expansion of Medicaid because failing to do so will be very costly for small businesses," said J.Ed. Marston, Chamber spokesperson.

Chattanooga's Chamber joins the Nashville Chamber of Commerce, which also has urged the governor to expand TennCare.

As Tennessee hospitals continue pressuring Gov. Bill Haslam to expand the state's Medicaid program, TennCare, Chattanooga-area health care providers are weighing the impact the governor's decision could have on their operations.

Local hospitals say they are joining with the Tennessee Hospital Association, which has stressed that expanding TennCare is crucial to offset severe federal funding cuts hospitals face over the next 10 years under the Affordable Care Act.

Officials at Erlanger Health System -- the public safety-net hospital which would be most affected by any action on Medicaid -- said in a statement Tuesday they believe Erlanger and others "will be at greater financial risk if the Medicaid expansion is not adopted in Tennessee."

"Access to care locally would be impacted because it could force some hospitals to scale back on needed services, which would certainly affect patient care," Erlanger officials said in the statement.

The hospital's finance officials estimate provisions in the Affordable Care Act could cost Erlanger $150 million over 10 years.

THA has claimed that Hamilton County could lose 7,500 jobs and $1.1 billion without an expansion.

Erlanger officials say expansion would help stem losses from uncompensated care -- $85 million last year.

"The proposed expansion is critical to Erlanger's success as the region's only tertiary provider of health care services, according to the hospital statement.

Some 20 states have agreed to expand their Medicaid programs, but Haslam is among a handful of U.S. governors who haven't decided.

The federal government has promised to pay 100 percent of the expansion cost for the first three years, and 90 percent thereafter. But some Republican governors are refusing to take on what they say could become an unmanageable burden down the road.

On Tuesday, executive staff members from Erlanger met with Hamilton County legislators in Nashville and encouraged them to support an expansion.

Officials from Parkridge Medical Center and Memorial Health Care System said they, too, are aligned with THA on the issue.

Georgia and Alabama hospitals have taken the same position, but Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal and Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley, both Republicans, have said they are opposed to participating.

The Chattanooga-Hamilton County Medical Society said Wednesday it is watching the Tennessee Medical Association, which so far has withheld support of Medicaid expansion. The TMA said Wednesday that physicians are split and there are many questions about how expansion would be implemented.

"I don't think physicians have thought about it a great deal, because there is a significant number of physicians who do not accept Medicaid," said TMA President-elect Dr. Chris Young. "But the doctors at safety-net hospitals and teaching hospitals will see impact."

Young said the organization will have a firmer stance on the issue after its annual meeting in April.

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