Pope Francis wants Catholic hospitals to increase care for poor

During his historic visit to the United States, Pope Francis has urged operators of Catholic hospitals--which are among the biggest and most powerful of American healthcare providers--to increase their charity care for poor patients, USA Today reported, and at least one Catholic healthcare system CEO, Ascension Health's Anthony Tersigni, is listening.

"He's challenged us to focus on faith over ideology," Tersigni, pictured, told the newspaper, adding that the Pontiff has asked hospital operators to "think even more creatively and intentionally about how to provide care for those people who need it most." He said he plans to meet with the Pope in Vatican City later this year to discuss the issue further.

Catholic hospitals provide about the same amount of charity care as other not-for-profit providers--about 2.8 percent of revenue, according to a report the advocacy group MergerWatch issued in 2013 in conjunction with the American Civil Liberties Union. By contrast, public hospitals offer twice as much charity care.

Ascension has been particularly generous with charity care, spending some $2 billion for the fiscal year ending June 30, according to USA Today. That's up 7 percent from fiscal 2014.

Medical debt is a huge issue in the United States. A report issued late last year from the Consumer Protection Financial Bureau concluded that nearly 43 million Americans have some form of medical debt they have yet to pay. And medical debt is also the leading cause of bankruptcies in the U.S.

However, the inclinations of other non-profit and even faith-based healthcare systems have been less than charitable at times. Last year ProPublica reported Mosaic Life Care in Missouri has a for-profit subsidiary that sues low-income patients rather than provide charity writeoffs. Texas Health Resources, the predominant provider in the Fort Worth area, tapes phone calls of patient interactions and uses them to hone the collections process, with a goal of obtaining half of the upfront payment prior to providing care.

To learn more:
- read the USA Today article