Saturday, April 01, 2006

Free Health Care

Free health care. Come and get it.

Hospitals in the region gave away an average $5.11 million in medical care during the first six months of fiscal year 2005, up from $4.61 million per hospital in the same period a year ago, according to the Hospital Council of Western Pennsylvania.

With the cost of uninsured care rising, hospitals have less money for things like equipment, staff, and other expenses that affect quality of care for all patients.

The truth is, no one in this country is denied health care when they need it. Until adults act responsibly to prepare for a medical emergency the hospitals and doctors who service their needs will continue lose money on the uninsured.

A Kaiser Commission study released May 10, 2004 found that the nation's uninsured may receive $41 billion in hospital uncompensated care services this year.

Some hospitals are facing lawsuits alleging that hospitals accept discounted payments from health insurance companies while pursuing higher payments, billed at full charges, from uninsured patients. Hospitals say that individual patients, even if uninsured, rarely pay full charges and that numerous programs exist to work out discounted rates and payment plans for the uninsured.

Hospitals and the doctors who work in the ER are the only professions EXPECTED to work for free. A trend that is overlooked in the health care industry are the number of docs who contract their services to the ER. These medical professionals are not on staff and bill the patient separately for services rendered. Due to the increasing number of uninsured in the ER, many times the life saving work performed is never compensated.

To make things even more difficult, med mal insurance rates continue to climb. Trauma docs have some of the highest med mal rates in the industry.

The uninsured problem is not limited to low-income workers. In the Chicago metropolitan area 21% of families with incomes between $50,000 and $75,000 have one or more uninsured member, as do 14.6% of those with incomes above $75,000. In some cases, these higher income individuals choose not to buy coverage even though they can afford it.

Chicago-area hospitals wrote off $1.8 billion in charges for uncompensated care in 2003 – a figure that has risen steadily for decades.

Chicago-area hospitals typically collect 10% to 15% of charges for care to uninsured patients.

A business cannot survive on a 15% collection rate. Hospitals are primarily in the business of serving the medical needs of the community but when they only collect 15 cents on every dollar you have to wonder how much longer they will be able to support such losses.

People in the Greater Houston area who need immediate emergency care are dying because Houston's trauma hospitals don't have the beds or staff to treat them within the first hour after injury-the "Golden Hour"-when the best chance exists to save their lives.

The study found that the hospitals have suffered huge financial losses due to an increasing number of uninsured patients. Houston-area hospitals have provided approximately $32 million in care to uninsured trauma patients in 2001 and have sustained losses of more than $17 million from that care. "In addition to trauma beds there is a statewide shortage of pediatric intensive care beds," said Clifton. "Hospital administrators throughout the State report that children requiring intensive care beds are being flown out of virtually every urban area in the State in search of beds. The problem is related to Texas' 800,000 uninsured Texas children, almost all of whom are eligible for the federal/state CHIP program."

Uncompensated care impacts more than just the bottom line of the hospitals and doctors who serve the needs of the community. Those who have the ability to pay for or otherwise obtain health insurance but fail to do so may be impacting the quality of care for the rest of us. Somehow, 85% of the population is able to finance their health insurance coverage. Most of the uninsured, the other 15% of the population have options, they simply fail to take action and cover their risk.
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