Uncompensated health care bill tops $40 billion

Sunday, May 16, 2004

May 17, 2004

WASHINGTON - The total cost to providers for uncompensated health care will near $41 billion in 2004, as almost 44 million uninsured Americans seek medical care, according to a study released by the Kaiser Commission of Medicaid and the Uninsured.
The study estimates that medical costs for all uninsured U.S. residents could reach $125 billion, and health care providers will swallow one-third of that price tag. Twenty-five percent of the total cost of care for the uninsured is paid out-of-pocket by patients, while the remaining 42% is paid by private and public insurance for those who have health coverage for part of the year, the study says.
While the burden falls mostly on hospitals and emergency rooms, accounting for 60% of uncompensated care dollars, other health care providers also lose revenue to the uninsured. Mel Palmer, manager of Jackson Medical South, a hospital-based DME in Montgomery Ala., said he gives uncompensated care and products about once a week.
"We try to work with the hospital to help get that patient out the door," he said. " If it costs me a walker or bedside commode occasionally, that's OK. It's a joint effort to treat these patients."
Palmer also added that as an independent DME it is important to make accommodations for referral sources.
"If you have a good referral source that sends you a lot of paying business and then has one indigent that they are probably helping out too, then you do what you can to help out," he said.
The report further notes that uninsured people get less than half - about 55% - of the amount of care an insured person receives.
Kaiser released the report, complied by the Urban Institute, to kick-off Cover the Uninsured Week. The organization feels the issue is important because, "the research shows that leaving a large share of the population without health insurance affects not only those who are uninsured, but also the health and economic well-being of the nation."