Senate Bill Threatens To Cut Funding to State Health Care Safety Net

By: Alexandra Hill Email
By: Alexandra Hill Email

Panama City - "Don't do it! It's absolutely necessary,” says Pamela Cool fighting back tears.

Cool is angry with state legislators.

In an effort to close a $3.6 billion deficit, the Senate budget proposal will cut the Medically Needy program and totally eliminate the Medicaid for the Aged and Disabled program.

“I'm very worried about it because without the Medically Needy program there are people out there that can't afford medical care,” said Cool.

Hospitals would have a hard time continuing to care for those patients, especially the 15 safety net hospitals which absorb more than half of all the state's charity and Medicaid patients.

Bay Medical is a safety net hospital.

"For us to shoulder that burden, I won't say entirely, but disproportionately in this community, is a huge task to ask of Bay Medical Center," said Bay Medical CEO Steve Johnson.

The Senate bill would cut $720 million to these safety nets, more than $9.4 million to Bay Medical.

"I just can't sit here and tell you that oh we'll just keep continuing to absorb the cuts because quite frankly that will be unattainable. We couldn't do that. We'd have to figure out how we're going to address that,” said Johnson.

Johnson said it's too early to speculate what services would suffer, but did point out the hospital's annual payroll is almost $80 million a year.

"It starts at paying debt service, to salaries, to supplies, drugs, soap, it affects everything,” Johnson.

Cool fears if this bill passes, she'll no longer be able to afford the care she needs.

"It's just ridiculous that it's so expensive. It's absolutely ridiculous,” said Cool.

The House budget proposal treats safety net hospitals a bit kinder. The House proposes to cut hospital Medicaid reimbursements by 7 percent instead of 10 percent. The bill also maintains hospital coverage in the Medically Needy program and the Medicaid for the Aged and Disabled program. This is a $580 million difference statewide. To Bay Medical it’s a $7 million difference, with the House bill cutting just around $2 million.

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