ROCKFORD — Three elected officials delivered pointed criticism of Mercyhealth’s president and CEO on Saturday over the health care system’s decision to stop accepting certain Medicaid patients, as well as other recent cutbacks.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, Mayor Tom McNamara and state Rep. Maurice West II, D-Rockford, held a news conference in front of Mercyhealth’s hospital on the city’s west side just days before it stops accepting Medicaid coverage provided Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois.
The nonprofit health care system will stop accepting those Medicaid patients on Thursday, the latest in a string of cutbacks that include closing the mental health unit at Javon Bea Hospital-Rockton and curtailing some emergency room services there, and, in June, quietly closing the pediatric intensive care unit at the 2-year-old Riverside hospital campus.
Bustos and others praised Mercyhealth employees for their dedication and service, aiming their remarks squarely at Bea, the west Rockford native who helped Mercy grow from $33 million in revenue when he started in 1989 to more than $3 billion today, according to Mercyhealth.
“What I’ve seen is that Javon Bea has put money over people,” West said. “So I no longer want to hear the story of coming up and being raised on the west side of Rockford because we don’t see the love that you have for the west side of Rockford.”
Mercyhealth announced in April that it would no longer accept Medicaid plans offered by IlliniCare, Meridian and Molina Medicaid starting July 21 and Blue Cross on Oct. 22. However, it later worked out an agreement with Molina.
West said he initially tried to work with Bea and his board to try to find a solution to prevent people from losing coverage.
“Every time I felt that we were about to jump the hurdle, the bar was raised by Mercyhealth,” he said.
The health care system says it was forced into the difficult decision because of issues with Medicaid. It is losing more than $30 million a year at its Winnebago County hospitals because Medicaid reimbursements cover only a fraction of the cost of care. On top of that, reimbursement payments arrive late.
“These elected officials criticizing Mercyhealth know what the real issue is: the state’s dysfunctional program for reimbursing Medicaid through for-profit managed care organizations,” Kim Scaccia, Mercyhealth’s vice president of revenue cycle management, said in a statement released to reporters. “Health systems throughout Illinois are really struggling because they are not being reimbursed for services to provide to Medicaid patients.”
Mercyhealth says it worked to make sure its Medicaid patients were reassigned to other hospitals or transitioned to Molina, the hospital’s partner. Thousands have made that transition, Scaccia said.
“We have tried to work through the problem with the MCOs to come to fairer reimbursement terms, but that did not happen with some of them despite our efforts,” she said.
West said the recent cutbacks have fueled fears that Mercyhealth will eventually close its west-side hospital. Mercyhealth has countered by saying it remains 100% committed, and points to $50 million in renovations at the hospital over the past several years.
Bustos said Mercyhealth’s decision to refuse some Medicaid patients’ insurance was unconscionable in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. She said Mercyhealth was provided $21 million in COVID-19 relief funding by Congress “and this is what Javon Bea does, turns away patients.”
She has suggested that any future relief funding from Congress be denied to any hospital or health provider that chooses to stop accepting Medicaid during this pandemic.
“This is about the CEO with a $9 million salary making a decision to close the mental health unit and on top of that to turn away tens of thousands of patients during the middle of a pandemic,” Bustos said. “Our hope is that the community continues to protest this kind of behavior.”
Kevin Haas: firstname.lastname@example.org; @KevinMHaas
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October 17, 2020 at 04:33PM