/ Modified may 29, 2012 10:04 a.m.

Hospitals Spending More to Cover Uninsured Patients

Survey of hospitals shows increase in "charity care"

Hospitals in Arizona are reporting higher rates of care for patients who can’t pay.

The reimbursement rates for doctors who provide care for patients enrolled in the state Medicaid program had been frozen for years, until the rates went down in 2011.

Patient enrollment was frozen last year as well, leaving thousands of adults without children ineligible for AHCCCS, as the state Medicaid program is known. All of that is contributing to financial strain for hospitals in the state, according to the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association.

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Numbers from the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association show hospitals in the state are providing more and more uncompensated care--care for people who can’t pay and have no insurance policy or state aid. In September of 2011, patients receiving uncompensated care made up 4.7 percent of the total patient population in Arizona hospitals.

By March of this year, it was up to 6 percent.

This should be a concern for everyone, says Pete Wertheim, a spokesman for the organization.

“As more people enter emergency departments that are uninsured or the payment for their services does not cover the entire costs of the services provided, those costs are often shifted to commercial insurance companies in the forms of higher premiums," Wertheim says. "When hospitals experience losses, that means they have to reduce services, consolidate services, potentially lay off staff, and attempt to cost-shift those losses onto private or self pay consumers.”

The Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association does a monthly survey of hospitals in the state, and attributes the losses to the state’s cuts in coverage for the lowest-earning Arizonans. Wertheim says this is affecting the hospitals’ bottom lines, and could cost more than $300 million for Arizona hospitals.

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