Bad debt expense drops at for-profits for Q1 '08, Fitch says

Well, in a season of battered markets, here's some welcome good news. According to Fitch Ratings' For-Profit Hospital Industry Quarterly Diagnosis, bad debt levels actually fell among for-profit hospitals as a percentage of revenues, from 18.4 percent in the fourth quarter of 2007 to 17.7 percent in the first quarter of 2008. Things were bad last quarter, hitting many for-profit chains' bottom lines hard, and analysts had actually anticipated higher levels of unpaid medical bills this quarter. 

Among the for-profit chains, Tenet had the lowest bad debt expense this quarter, with 12.1 percent of revenues, followed by LifePoint Hospitals, with 13.5 percent adjusted bad debt expense as a percentage of revenues. Tenet's numbers were improved by lower uninsured and charity care admissions.

In the recent report, Fitch analyst Lauren Coste said that relatively low unemployment rates were the main reason the for-profits' bad debt didn't climb. Also, she noted that hospitals have adopted more conservative accounting practices over the past couple of years, which have limited industry exposure to special bad debt charges. However, this interlude may not last. If job losses climb, or if states cut Medicaid funding, bad debt could begin to accelerate again, Coste noted.

To learn more about the report:
- read this InsideARM article

ALSO: Missouri hospitals wish they had it so good. According to the state's trade association, hospitals there saw uncompensated care grow 32 percent. Article

Related Articles:
In 2007, bad debt rising for hospitals
Bad debt savages HCA, LifePoint profits
Bad debt hits Health Management Assoc. earnings