Uncompensated care is a growing expense for hospitals in the state of Missouri, according to information issued by the Missouri Hospital Association (MHA) this week.
That report states Missouri hospitals provided a record $1.1 billion of “free” care to patients in 2011. Of that total, $14 million came from Hannibal Regional Hospital, according to Todd Ahrens, president and chief executive officer of the Hannibal Regional Healthcare System (HRHS).
“It comes in a variety of fashions - charity care, costs that are not compensated through the Medicare and Medicaid programs, and then just bad debt or bills that don’t get paid,” he said.
While 2012’s figures aren’t available, Ahrens indicated he is “certain” this year’s amount of uncompensated care will top 2011’s.
“Just like statewide numbers, our numbers have been increasing over time as well,” he said.
According to MHA data, in 2011 $623 million of charity care was provided at 129 hospitals, an increase of about 400 percent since 2004.
Ahrens was not shocked by the $1.1 billion total statewide.
“It’s surprising only in the broadness of the scope of the number; $1.1 billion is a lot of care that Missouri hospitals have provided that is not compensated. This number has continued to go up over time, so in some ways I’m not shocked,” he said.
Ahrens acknowledges that the high cost of uncompensated care does impact what HRH must charge other patients.
“We’re not able to recoup $14 million in uncompensated care from all our other patients, but it’s hard to say it doesn’t increase the cost of care to those who do have insurance or are able to afford their bill,” he said.
The hospital group is encouraging Missouri lawmakers to expand Medicaid eligibility to more adults.
“Certainly getting more people on the insured status is a good thing. It’s not the end all that’s going to save the system, but it’s certainly a good start,” said Ahrens.
Under the new federal health care law, payments to Missouri hospitals could decline by $3.3 billion from 2013 to 2020. The federal law assumes hospitals can handle the cuts because they would be getting more money from an increased number of people covered by private insurance or the government-run Medicaid program.
“As a hospital we’re concerned,” said Ahrens. “Part of the way they’re funding all this is to reduce certain payments we get based on treating the uninsured. If we don’t expand Medicaid and they take away that money we’ve gotten in the past to help cover some of these costs for treating the uninsured, it’s going to be sort of a double whammy to us.”
Page 2 of 2 - The administrator notes that through various outreaches HRHS tries to enhance health in the community.
“We provide support to the Hannibal Free Clinic in getting some of those uninsured individuals basic health care,” said Ahrens. “We also do other health education opportunities professionally and out in the community, so we do things to try to combat some of this and improve health in the area, but it’s a staggering number to think that $14 million of care is given to the uninsured.”
(The Associated Press contributed to this story.)