Safety-Net Hospitals Under the Gun

Safety-net hospitals across the country face a new challenge:  adjusting to several cuts in the supplemental payments they receive from the federal government to help them serve the low-income residents of the communities in which they are located.

First there is a $2 billion cut in Medicaid disproportionate share hospital payments (Medicaid DSH).  These are payments made to hospitals that serve especially large numbers of low-income patients.  These payments help safety-net hospitals with the unreimbursed expenses they incur caring for such patients.  This cut, mandated by the Affordable Care Act but twice delayed by Congress, took effect on January 1.  In many states the value of Medicaid DSH cuts will exceed the reductions in uninsured care that hospitals have experienced since the Affordable Care Act made health insurance more widely available.

Second there is a 28 percent cut in Medicare payments for prescription drugs dispensed through the section 340B prescription drug discount program.  This cut, too, took effect on January 1.

Finally, federal funding has lapsed for the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) and for community health centers.

Safety-net hospitals are considering a number of moves to offset these losses.  Among them:  reducing or eliminating services, laying off staff, discontinuing the provision of transportation assistance, and eliminating post-discharge assistance to patients.  One safety-net hospital is even considering discontinuing providing chemotherapy to cancer patients because such drugs are especially expensive and often reimbursed through the 340B program.

Learn more about the cuts safety-net hospitals face, their implications, and how they might respond to them in this Stateline article.

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