Arizona hospitals still questioning Medicaid expansion charges

TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Copper Queen Community Hospital has doubled its emergency department, and is ready for more patients.  But there's concern that the new Medicaid expansion could hurt, and not help, rural hospitals.

"Everybody's happy it passed, everybody's ecstatic.  My problem is I don't know what passed," said Copper Queen Community Hospital CEO Jim Dickson.

Arizona will collect more than $200 million from hospitals to provide its share of the Medicaid expansion, so that the federal government will provide almost $2 billion.  But hospitals that have lost money on uninsured visits, rural hospitals especially, now face contributing to the state.

"You goose it up, you pay more money, but then you take it away," said Copper Queen Community Hospital CEO Jim Dickson.

He said that expansion benefits likely won't be felt in rural areas right away because getting patients on the rolls takes time.  And the argument over if this is tax on hospitals could delay the expansion another year and send it to voters.

"Let's call a spade a spade, okay?  Paying money when you don't want to spend it is a tax, okay?" Dickson said.

The state could charge hospitals by how many daily visits they have, also known as outpatient visits, which would hurt small hospitals, or by how many patients actually check into the hospital, also known as outpatient visits, and would have more of an impact on larger hospitals.

Dickson said that he hopes rural hospitals can get an exemption.  Otherwise, he said that rural hospitals that need a hand could get slapped instead.

"So the battle's not over, and so, you can't rely on this money, anybody that thinks this money is going to save them is foolish," Dickson said.

An assessment task force is still determining how hospitals will pay the state and it needs to have this determined well before January First, when the expansion takes effect.

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