Hospital charity care doubled to $190M in Maine

Amid increased scrutiny over charity care, a new report shows that the weak economy pushed Maine hospitals to double the amount of free care delivered during the past five years, reported The Portland Press Herald.

Charity care totaled $190 million statewide last year, twice the amount offered five years ago, according to the Maine Hospital Association. Hospitals saw bad debts, or uncollected bills, jump to $209 million, up 34 percent from 2007, the article noted.

To handle the surge in charity care, Mid Coast Hospital in Brunswick opened a clinic to connect patients with MaineCare, the state's Medicaid program, and divert non-urgent patients from the costly emergency room. Southern Maine Medical bought PrimeCare Physicians, allowing poor patients to access primary care physicians and specialists free of charge, noted the Press Herald.

Yet patients who qualify for free care oftentimes don't know how to access it or are too embarrassed to ask for it, the Kennebec Journal reported.

"People don't understand that free care is even available," Joe Ditre, executive director of Consumers for Affordable Health Care, told the newspaper. "There's also a misunderstanding about what qualifies for free care. It's a real conundrum," he said.

To better promote charity care services, Southern Maine, in addition to its physician network, has hired an employee to help consumers find out if they qualify for government aid.

Meanwhile, patients face a difficult financial aid process in New York, as many hospitals failed to post charity policies or applications within the walls of their facilities or on their websites--blatant violations of state law.

To learn more:
- read the Press Herald article
- here's the Kennebec Journal article