Unpaid hospital bills stacked up in 2008

By Emily Paulsen and Dan Bowman

Uncompensated care totaled $36.4 billion on 2008, an increase of 7.1 percent from 2007, according to a new report from the American Hospital Association. However, the percentage of total expenses held steady at 5.8 percent. The results are based on data from 5,010 registered community hospitals across the U.S.

The AHA report defined uncompensated care as both unpaid bills (bad debt) and free or discounted care provided by community hospitals in the U.S.

Another AHA report added that Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements again fell well short of actual hospital costs. The report found Medicare underpaid hospitals by $22 billion, while Medicaid underpaid by $10.4 billion, for a total of $32.4 billion. Underpayment totaled $31.9 billion in 2008.

All of these numbers add up to a disturbing trend of underpayment. Since 2000, the uncompensated care cost for those surveyed hospitals rose by almost $15 billion; underpayments from Medicare and Medicaid have risen by nearly $28 billion since 2000. Last year, Milliman Inc. determined that such low reimbursement rates lead to higher health insurance costs for consumers and employers. 

To learn more:
- read the AHA's fact sheet on uncompensated care
- read the AHA's fact sheet on underpayments by Medicare and Medicaid