The South Carolina Legislature plans to cut the amount it pays hospitals to treat Medicaid patients. Department of Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck wants the power to lower provider rates as a way to cut the agency’s $225 million deficit.
While saying they understood the agency needs to cut its budget, Democrats on Monday sought to limit the proposal’s impact during a budget debate in the House. Rep. Bakari Sellers (D-Bamberg) worries the cuts will hurt rural hospitals, which may have to close.
In Bamberg County, we have been fighting to keep our hospital open… so people in rural communities have a place to go and simply have access to health care.
Sellers said he worries even a 0.5 percent cut would force the Bamberg hospital to close. He says the hospital does not even have a surgeon, “We can’t even birth a baby… and you’re talking about rates.”
However, Rep. Brian White (R-Anderson) said DHHS wants to treat each hospital differently, and locking the provider rates in place would hamstring Keck.
To go back in and start to micromanage and say what he can’t do… He has to get approval to do any rate reductions. He just can’t arbitrarily decide one day that he’s going to start reducing people’s rates.
White mentioned that the House had set aside $70 million in cigarette tax revenue as a backup in case DHHS later realized the cuts were too severe.
Democrats tried to introduce several amendments that would have limited how much the rates could be cut. They also pushed for a proposal the industry originally wanted– which would have raised hospitals taxes instead of cutting the provider rate. At the time, Governor Nikki Haley called it “immoral,” saying hospitals would simply pass the tax’s costs on to patients.
The House included the proviso on its budget, which it plans to continue debating Tuesday. The Senate has already approved the proviso.