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When the Supreme Court takes up the health care law next week, one question it will consider concerns Medicaid. Twenty-six states, led by Florida, maintain that the federal government can't force them to expand Medicaid. At the same time, though, some hospitals in Florida are making preparations for thousands of additional Medicaid patients. Sammy Mack of member station WLRN brings us a tale of two Miami hospitals, one public and one private, both hoping to gain new Medicaid business.
SAMMY MACK, BYLINE: Here's what you need to know. Jackson Health System and the University of Miami Health System share a campus. They share a lot of doctors, but they are two separate hospitals. The U's hospital is owned by a private university. Jackson is a massive public safety net hospital. It provides the most surety care in town, more than $450 million in uncompensated care last year - that's 15 times as much as the university hospital.
To get a sense of how these two different hospitals are preparing for Medicaid expansion, it first helps to visit the Sabal Palm supermarket in Little Haiti, where the university health system is running a cervical cancer screening program.
Here, Valentine Cesar is a community health worker recruiting women to get a Pap smear.
VALENTINE CESAR: (Foreign language spoken)
MACK: The conversation frequently leads to Medicaid.
CESAR: Most of the women I meet that's the first thing she tell me. She said, I don't have Medicaid; I don't have health insurance. Everybody wants health care.
MACK: But not everybody in this community gets it.
DR. LAURENCE GARDNER: The reality is there's no one to pay for their health care services.
MACK: Dr. Laurence Gardner is the policy dean for the University of Miami's medical school and hospital.
Medicaid reimbursements to hospitals are notoriously low. Even so, Gardner says Medicaid money spent preventing chronic illness and keeping patients out of the E.R. is efficient in the long run. And that, he says, is...
GARDNER: To everyone's benefit.
MACK: Which is why the University of Miami's preparation has included beefing up a network of satellite clinics and community health workers, like Cesar.
According to Gardner, his hospital is just about ready for Medicaid expansion. To use a sports metaphor...
GARDNER: Well, I'd say we're probably at the five yard line.
MACK: But at the public safety net hospital across the street from the Gardner...
CARLOS MIGOYA: We're probably right after kickoff on the 20-yard line with 80 yards to go.
MACK: Carlos Migoya has been CEO of Jackson Health System for less than a year.
MIGOYA: We've inherited a place where, basically had had consistent losses for the last several years.
MACK: Jackson has lost about $420 million in the past three years through a combination of uncompensated care and mismanagement. Migoya just announced layoffs and cuts of about 1,100 hospital positions.
MIGOYA: The Medicaid expansion will have a dramatic improvement to our finances.
MACK: And this is the big difference between how these two hospitals see Medicaid expansion. For the public safety net hospital, Medicaid expansion - which will eventually cover about two million more Floridians than it does now - is an answer to relentless financial problems. For the university-backed health system, Medicaid is now a growth market to pursue.
As Gardner puts it...
GARDNER: Is it a new market? No. But is it possibly the only growing market in this geography for the next five to 10 years? Yes.
MACK: That brings with it a certain degree of competition
GARDNER: A rising tide won't lift all boats if the boats aren't painted and gussied up for the patients.
MACK: Which is why, across the street from Gardner in the university hospital, the public hospital is gussying up.
On the labor and delivery wing in Jackson's Holtz Children's Hospital, administrator Dr. Daniel Armstrong gives a tour.
DR. DANIEL ARMSTRONG: Some of this flooring hasn't been replaced since the building was constructed in 1981.
MACK: The harsh fluorescent lighting does no favors for the layer of perma-grit around the baseboards. But in the refurbished rooms down the hall...
ARMSTRONG: The rooms are painted a light blue on the walls. And we've put in things like sconces.
MACK: Armstrong's boss at the safety net hospital, Migoya, knows the cosmetic fixes won't attract all the new Medicaid patients.
MIGOYA: We believe that some of those patients will choose to go to other hospitals. But that's OK, too.
MACK: Because, Migoya says, the worst case scenario would be status quo.
For NPR News, I'm Sammy Mack in Miami.
BLOCK: That report was produced by member station WLRN, in collaboration with NPR and Kaiser Health News.
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