U.S. Senator Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and U.S. Representative Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), today announced progress in the effort to improve health care for Memphians following a meeting with Shelby County Mayor AC Wharton, and hospital officials at the Regional Medical Center at Memphis.
After reviewing the early stages of construction on the MED's upgraded emergency room, Alexander announced that $500,000 to support the emergency room was moving forward in the Senate and he discussed efforts to pass legislation that would provide a "MED Fix" to reimburse the hospital for treating thousands of Medicaid patients from Mississippi and Arkansas each year.
"The MED does an outstanding job of serving Memphis and the surrounding communities, and I am working with Mayor Wharton, Congressman Cohen, and Senator Corker to ensure it's getting the support it needs," Alexander said. "Over the past several months in Congress we've made progress on two major areas of concern: improving the emergency room facilities and getting reimbursement for the out-of-state Medicaid patients treated at the hospital."
“The MED is an absolutely vital component to our health care infrastructure in the 9th District,” said Congressman Cohen. “Without its presence in the community, thousands of low-income families from across the Mid-South might not receive basic health services. That is why we must take steps to ensure that the MED remains solvent and pass a fix to reimburse the hospital for the treatment of out-of-state patients.”
Alexander noted that the Senate version of the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill for Fiscal Year 2009 includes $500,000 to help the MED update its Emergency Room which is currently working beyond capacity. The bill was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee, of which Alexander is a member, and awaits approval by the full Senate. In addition to the $500,000 in funding for the MED, Alexander said that he and Senator Corker (R-Tenn.) were able to secure a commitment from Senate leaders to allow legislation that would reimburse the MED for the care it provides the poorest citizens in Tennessee, Arkansas, and Mississippi.
"We're working to reduce waiting lines at the emergency room doors and help the MED deliver the highest level of care," Alexander said. "This $500,000 will support the MED’s effort to keep up with the needs of the Memphis area, and I will work with Congressman Cohen and the rest of the delegation to be sure the funding is signed into law.”
“We’re certainly not finished, but I am proud of the progress Senator Alexander, Representative Cohen and I have made in ensuring that the MED has the resources it needs to serve the many demands that come with being the only level one trauma center in a tri-state region,” said U.S. Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) “In addition to making it a priority to upgrade their strained emergency facilities, we have also received a commitment from Senate leadership to permanently fix a Medicaid issue that will allow the MED to be reimbursed for the millions of dollars in uncompensated care costs that are generated annually from uninsured Arkansas and Mississippi patients.”
Alexander also noted that "the cost of treating out-of-state Medicaid patients has increased health care costs for Tennesseans who are already struggling with sky-high energy and medical bills. It's crucial that we find a way to help the MED deal with this strain so the hospital is able to stay afloat. During debate on legislation that averted a cut in payments to physicians who treat Medicare patients, Senator Corker and I were also able to secure a strong commitment from Senate leaders to get MED Fix language through the Senate as soon as possible."
The MED is the primary emergency hospital provider in a 150-mile wide, tri-state area that includes Memphis as well as parts of northern Mississippi and southeastern Arkansas. According to the MED, uninsured patients account for approximately 30 percent of their caseload, resulting in $100 million annually in uncompensated care costs that the facility cannot absorb on its own. This issue has put a huge financial strain not only on the MED and Shelby County, but also on the entire safety net infrastructure throughout Tennessee. The hospital also serves the majority of emergency room visits in Memphis and is currently at full capacity. Shelby County has determined that these issues cannot be resolved within the physical constraints of the current building, and Alexander and Corker have worked to secure additional funding to create a larger expanded facility to increase patient services and improve quality of care for Shelby County and the region.