State lawmakers ask for extension of Medicaid DSH

Published 9:19 am Monday, January 5, 2015

Tennessee lawmakers are asking the federal government to extend federal funds that help hospitals in the state provide health care to low-income patients.
Every state participates in the federal funding program, known as the “disproportionate share hospital” fund, or DSH. However, because of the wording of a 1994 waiver that created TennCare — Tennessee’s version of Medicaid — Tennessee is the only state that requires a year-by-year renewal of the federal funding program.
Nine members of Tennessee’s congressional delegation are appealing to federal officials for the funding extension. Their request came in a recent letter to Marilyn Tavenner, administrator for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
“The Medicaid DSH program is vital to Tennesseans who rely on our state’s hospitals for health care,” the letter said. “Tennessee hospitals are an integral part of their communities, providing $950 million in charity care and $720 million in unreimbursed costs in 2013.
“Unlike hospitals in every other state, Tennessee hospitals are unable to offset these expenses with the help of the Medicaid DSH program,” the letter continues. “We are deeply committed to restoring Tennessee’s DSH funding, as our state is the only in the nation without permanent access to these dollars.”
The letter was signed by U.S. Sens. Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, along with U.S. Reps. Phil Roe, Diane Black, Chuck Fleischmann, Marsha Blackburn, Steve Cohen, Jim Cooper and John Duncan Jr.
To help resolve the matter, the nine congressional delegates are asking that the temporary funding through the waiver be extended to allow congress time to construct a permanent solution to the funding issue.
“Our hospitals have operated with temporary funding from Congress, and the most recent patch expired on September 30, 2013,” the letter said. “Despite the looming financial uncertainty, our hospitals have continued to provide quality care for our state’s most vulnerable populations.”
The letter notes the Consolidated and Further Continuing Appropriates Act which was passed by congress and signed by the president last month includes a recommendation for the waiver to be continued to allow congress to adopt a permanent solution.
“Tennessee is the only state in the nation that receives this lowered payment, so we’re asking for fairness and the same agreement as every other state,” Roe said.
Hospitals across the state depend on this funding to help recover some of the costs of treating low-income patients.
“These funds, intended to offset the cost of caring for indigent patients, are critical for hospitals in order to continue serving as safety net providers for our community,” said Alan Levine, president and CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance. “Mountain States Health Alliance applauds the efforts of our state officials and congressmen to keep the ‘disproportionate share hospital’ fund for our state. Tennessee is the only state without permanent DSH payments, and what our state does receive is one of the lowest in the country on a per capita basis.”

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