JEFFERSON CITY — One of the Republican-controlled Legislature’s flagship accomplishments this year was passing a law prohibiting hospitals from barring visitors in an emergency.
The so-called No Patients Left Alone Act, which requires medical facilities to allow at least two visitors to see a patient during visiting hours, was inspired by stories of seriously ill Missourians who were barred from seeing their loved ones during the pandemic.
When the measure passed the House and Senate in May, the price was pegged at around $1.9 million by nonpartisan legislative researchers.
But, a new analysis this week by the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services increased that figure to $20.9 million as part of the rollout of the law’s rules. The majority of the costs are associated with the distribution of gowns, masks and gloves to “essential caregivers”.
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There is, however, a major caveat in the latest projection.
“(T)this budget note attempts to estimate the worst case scenario,” the analysis reads.
Under the new law, the regulations would come into effect if a state of emergency related to infectious diseases such as COVID-19 is declared.
In calculating the new figure, analysts have assumed that every approved bed for every private hospital is at full capacity for the duration of the emergency declaration, which could last up to six months.
“A hospital may, in practice, use fewer beds to deal with the state of emergency,” DHSS officials said.
The new law was among a number of legislative responses to the COVID-19 pandemic. Republicans who control state government have chafed at federal guidelines that sought to slow or stop the spread of a disease that has killed more than 21,000 Missourians since 2020.
An early version of the legislation, for example, would have prohibited health facilities from requiring vaccinations against any disease in order to receive treatment. This provision was later removed from the proposal.
Incoming Speaker of the Missouri House Dean PlocherR-Des Peres, made caregiver legislation a priority, praising the law as a way to help vulnerable citizens.
In signing the legislation, Gov. Mike Parson did not mention the law’s potential cost to public and private health care providers.
“No individual should ever be isolated while in intensive care in hospitals or care facilities, and we are pleased to sign this legislation to ensure they will not be,” the governor said in a statement. .
The new numbers were collated using information from the Missouri Hospital Association, MHA spokesman Dave Dillon said. He said the numbers could go up or down.
For example, costs could be reduced if hospitals are not required to provide personal protective equipment, Dillon said.
“There are a lot of variables,” he said. “That was our best guess.”
Under the law, medical providers would still be allowed to impose restrictions on visitors if, for example, the person showed symptoms of infection.
The law allows two designated “essential caregivers” to be with a patient in an emergency.
Facilities can also limit access to essential caregivers if the person does not follow certain health protocols.
In its analysis, the DHSS said there were about 21,600 beds in Missouri’s private hospitals and those owned by state and local governments.
Dillon said the additional costs to hospitals likely won’t interfere with rolling out the program. Additionally, he said, the federal government could provide additional funding to offset the costs of medical providers.