Sarasota Memorial urging state to expand Medicaid

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SARASOTA - This week, Florida lawmakers heard testimony urging them to expand Medicaid, and top hospital officials from the Suncoast were among them.

Sarasota Memorial's CEO was in Tallahassee this week hoping to convince law makers to expand the program, saying hospital is set to lose millions of dollars if the state doesn't get on board.

"Sarasota Memorial would lose about 145 million." Gwen Mackenzie, the CEO of Sarasota Memorial, is concerned about the future of the hospital if state lawmakers decide not to expand the Medicaid program. "We are in favor of the expansion of Medicaid. It's one of the positives that came with health care reform."

If state lawmakers decide to expand the program, more people would qualify for Medicaid health insurance, which now mostly covers children and pregnant woman. Mackenzie says the expansion would give an estimated 1 million uninsured people coverage for their medical needs.

"It’s always better for people to have insurance than not. If they don’t have insurance, they seek out the services at the worst possible time when they are very ill and have to use an emergency room. That’s not good for them, it’s not cost effective," says Mackenzie.

She says last year the hospital lost more than $80 million in bad debt from uninsured patients who did not pay for their services. And expanding Medicaid would help to eliminate that.

But Mackenzie says the hospital isn't only one who would see a change for the better. “If the benefit of Medicaid expansion came with jobs, the economy, with multiplier effect, and the number patients that would be covered by Medicaid, it’s about $362 million to Sarasota County -- not to Sarasota Memorial, but to Sarasota County."

But opponents say expanding Medicare would cause more people to rely on the government. They also worry about who will foot the bill after the three years of federal reimbursements expire.

But while lawmakers toil over the decision, hospitals say they are stuck in the middle because their payments for Medicare -- the program that predominantly serves seniors -- have been cut to pay for the expansion of Medicaid, regardless of whether the state opts in or not.

"If that benefit doesn't come to Florida, then we suffer all the negative sides of the Accountable Care Act without being helped by any of the benefits," says Mackenzie.

So far, around 14 states have already rejected the Medicaid expansion program.