U.S. Senators Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.) and Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) secured provisions to support Tennessee hospitals that were included in the Children’s Health Insurance Program Improvements Act (H.R. 2) passed today by the Senate. The bill reauthorizes and improves the State Children’s Health Insurance Program (SCHIP), and makes permanent the ability of the Regional Medical Center at Memphis (the Med) to be reimbursed by Arkansas and Mississippi for treating uninsured patients from those states. Additionally, Tennessee hospitals serving patients unable to pay for treatment will receive continued support with a two-year extension of funding through disproportionate share payments (DSH). Both Alexander and Corker voted for the bill, which the Senate approved by a vote of 66 to 32.
“From Memphis to Bristol, the hospitals that Tennesseans rely on will receive support with this bill,” Senator Alexander said. “The Med will no longer be penalized for serving patients from the tri-state area, and hospitals treating the sick and disadvantaged will get much needed support. The 32,000 children currently being served through the state’s CoverKids program and more of the 125,000 uninsured Tennessee children will be able to take advantage of this valuable program. In some respects this bill goes further than I would have liked, and further than the bill I voted for in 2007. But it’s good for Tennessee children, families, and hospitals.”
“I’m pleased that after years of hard work we’ve finally secured this essential fix for the Med and extended additional support to keep our safety net hospital infrastructure strong state-wide,” Senator Corker said. “What our country needs is broad health care reform that ensures all Americans have access to private, quality, affordable health care and I will work passionately to that end in the 111th Congress, but until that time, reauthorization of SCHIP is necessary so that our nation’s children are not left without access to health care. I’ve yet to vote for a perfect bill, and this legislation is far from it. It could have done a much better job prioritizing far more coverage for low-income children before expanding the program in other ways. But at the end of the day, when faced with a yes or no vote, I chose to err on the side of ensuring Tennessee children receive adequate health care coverage.”
“This provision is long overdue,” Congressman Steve Cohen (D-TN-09) said. “I’ve been working with my colleagues in the House and Sens. Alexander and Corker to pass a ‘Med Fix’ for nearly two years, and I’m very gratified to see it finally pass. Funding the Med has been one of my highest legislative priorities since I arrived in Washington, and this provision could not come soon enough as our historic public hospital verges on the brink of insolvency. Tennessee taxpayers have shown incredible generosity in keeping the Med afloat the past few years, but thankfully, our neighboring states will once again help shoulder the financial load.”
The Med and DSH payment provisions were included in the SCHIP bill as a result of commitments secured by Alexander and Corker from Senate leaders in the 110th Congress that met from 2007-08.
The Med serves as the primary emergency hospital for 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 its caseload and $80 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 two-year extension of DSH payments ensures the state will receive roughly $30 million per year in new federal dollars. DSH payments help compensate hospitals – like UT Medical Center, Erlanger Hospital, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, and the Med – that treat large numbers of Medicaid and uninsured patients. Tennessee and Hawaii are the only two states that do not have permanent DSH allotments.
Begun in 1997, SCHIP provides health care to millions of children and families who do not qualify for Medicaid and cannot otherwise afford private health care. Currently 32,000 children in Tennessee rely on SCHIP for their health care. H.R.2 extends funding for SCHIP for four and half years and will cover approximately 4 million previously uninsured children. Without congressional action, a temporary reauthorization of the program expires on March 31.