County expects to pay less for indigent care

March 21, 2014 • Local News

C[auth] haves County expects to see little, if any, change in the amount of tax revenue it will send to the state to fund hospital care for patients who can’t afford to pay the bill, following the passage of Senate Bill 268.

The bill that was passed in the last legislative session changes the way indigent care is funded throughout the state. It requires all counties except Bernalillo and Sandoval, to collect tax funds to pay for a new Safety Net Care Pool Fund.

Though some counties remain concerned about the change, Chaves County expects to fare well under the new program.

The county expects to pay less than before, said Commission Chair James Duffey.

“From the projections they’ve got, we turn out all right in Chaves County,” Duffey said. “From what is left, we can take care of the services we have in the county.”

Duffey estimated the county might have $500,000 to $1 million left in dedicated indigent care funds to pay other medical service providers who contract with the county to serve the same population. These include paying helicopter companies who transport patients, La Casa de Buena Salud and doctors.

The state has collected tax funds to pay for the care through a Sole Community Provider program.

Chaves County sends some $2 million per year to the state for that program. That money is then used as a match for Medicaid funds and is directed back to Lovelace and Eastern Medical Center to pay the bills for the patients who can’t afford them.

With the new system, the county is taken out of the loop. Counties will send 1/12 percent of its gross receipts tax, or one penny for each $12 purchase.

“We have a high indigent population,” said County Manager Stan Riggs.

The county realizes hospitals that serve the impoverished population were not being fully paid for services under the old system, Riggs said.

“We hope under this new program the hospitals will see an increased reimbursement amount and have more people covered by Medicaid and more money coming to them from the state,” Riggs said. “But, we’re kind of out of it now.”

The county will no longer have to approve hospital claims under the new system.

Some questions remain, however.

The state has expanded Medicaid and more people are now eligible for the program. Hospitals in the state estimate they need $45 million in state funds to qualify for federal funding to cover the costs to care for the indigent patients as a result.

The bill leaves them $9 million short of their goal. The state estimates counties will pay $36 million into the indigent patient care fund.

Some counties remained concerned this week about the new program and how the money will be dispursed, Duffey said.

“There is quite a bit of concern from some of the counties,” Duffey said. “There is some concern about how that formula is going to work.”

Lea and Eddy counties are not pleased about the new program, Duffey said, after a meeting he attended that included a discussion about the bill with neighboring county representatives Wednesday.

Lea County hired an attorney over the matter. Lea County manager Mike Gallagher said the county’s share will be some $4.1 million and will hurt funding for other programs, according to The Associated Press.

“It has caused some heartburn for some counties because they don’t know what amount their hospitals are going to get back,” Duffey said. “Transparency is still a concern, as far as how the state is going to send that money out.”

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