The New York Post reported 18 February:
“Poor New Yorkers will be entitled to free or low-cost medical treatment, under new rules meant to prevent hospitals from denying care to the uninsured.”
The new rules are actually final regulations implementing “Manny’s Law” - a mandate passed in New York about a year ago. That mandate strengthened earlier mandates requiring that hospitals give financial aid to indigent, uninsured patients. Among other things, the final regulations add a requirement to tell uninsured indigent patients that they are entitled to charity care. Sounds reasonable to me. After all why would a hospital want to keep that a secret, especially for a life-threatening condition? Read on.
“Manny” is Manual Lanza, a young New Yorker who was turned away from St. Lukes-Roosevelt Hospital in late 2005 because he had no insurance. Doctors and administrators at the hospital insisted he obtain Medicaid before they would agree to treat him. They did not tell him about other financial assistance available thru the hospital under existing New York law or, in fact, offer to help him enroll in Medicaid for which (I’m assuming) he was eligible. Manny subsequently died.
For many years, New York has mandated that its hospitals provide care to the indigent. Prior to 1997, hospitals tacked the cost of uncompensated care onto their bills for insured patients. Starting in 1997, New York began to tax insurance plans based on NY hospital benefits paid. Proceeds of this tax are placed into a pool managed by NYDOH and distributed among hospitals in New York. Of course, it’s the insured people who bear the ultimate cost of uncompensated care, whether financed by additional hospital charges or by taxes.
The state considers the provision of hospital services to be an entitlement for the indigent, and I agree the entitlement is necessary under present conditions. Because the entitlement is not called “insurance,” indigent persons receive hospital care and are still counted as “uninsured”. This meets the social need while pleasing the New York majority party, too, by not reducing the count of uninsured.
So what does this mean?
1. The uninsured “problem” is less serious than advertised. Despite the headlines and hustlers shrieking otherwise, “no insurance” does not really mean “no health care”.
2. Fix Medicaid, fix that problem. The number of uninsured Americans rises from the failure of Medicaid to fulfill its mission to insure the poor and working poor - because the clear majority of the uninsured are the poor and working poor.