Uncompensated care rises 11.7% to $45.9B

Uncompensated care provided by U.S. hospitals rose $4.8 billion (11.7 percent) in 2012, skyrocketing to a whopping $45.9 billion, according to the American Hospital Association's Annual Survey of Hospitals.

In 2012, uncompensated care accounted for 6.1 percent in total expenses--the highest rate since 1999, when the rate was 6.2 percent. In 1980, uncompensated care costs were just $3.9 billion, although it still made up for 5.1 percent of total expenses. Rates normally trend between 5.4 percent and 6 percent, according to a chart in the survey.

The total tallied by the AHA survey  included bad debt and charity care, but did not include underpayment of Medicaid and Medicare charges, the association said in the findings announcement. About 5,000 community hospitals responded to the survey.

Rates throughout the past 10 years were:

  • 2002 - $22.3 billion - 5.4 percent
  • 2003 - $24.9 billion - 5.5 percent
  • 2004 - $26.9 billion - 5.6 percent
  • 2005 - $28.9 billion - 5.6 percent
  • 2006 - $31.2 billion - 5.7 percent
  • 2007 - $34.0 billion - 5.8 percent
  • 2008 - $36.4 billion - 5.8 percent
  • 2009 - $39.1 billion - 6.0 percent
  • 2010 - $39.3 billion - 5.8 percent
  • 2011 - $41.1 billion - 5.9 percent

It's unclear how the refusal of about half of U.S. states to expand Medicaid eligibility will affect uncompensated care costs. A recent Commonwealth Fund report argued that states declining to expand Medicaid will stunt job growth by refusing federal funding that could add jobs to healthcare payrolls.

Meanwhile, hospital administrators in New York and in the Indianapolis area reportedly are considering paying premiums for patients who buy health insurance through insurance exchanges but fall behind on payments, FierceHealthFinance previously reported. The idea is to protect themselves against the costs of uncompensated care.

Insurers oppose the idea, saying it will negatively affect their risk pool.

To learn more:
- read the announcement
- here's the survey (.pdf)

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