Hospital will turn away non-resident poor

Yet another public hospital will deny care to poor people to save money. Hennepin County Medical Center, Minnesota's largest public hospital, will stop giving nonemergency care to uninsured, non-county residents starting Jan. 1, 2011, the Star Tribune reports.

The Hennepin County Board approved the change to the hospital's admission and treatment policy in a 6-1 vote on Tuesday. The new policy could save $600,000 a year by denying treatment to about 1,000 poor patients a year, according to HCMC estimates.

The cash-strapped hospital has been under more financial pressure in recent months, since major cuts were made to one source of reimbursements, the state's General Assistance Medical Care program for low-income, single adults.

Poor Minnesotans often go to Hennepin County Medical Center when they can't get care elsewhere, Mike Opat, chairman of the board told Minnesota Public Radio. But Hennepin County reimburses HCMC only for uncompensated care for Hennepin County residents.

"Their last resort has been Hennepin County Medical Center for outpatient care. And we're just at a point now where we can't necessarily see everybody," he said. "We're going to have to have some of the other counties, some of the other hospitals step up a little bit."

The admission policy change should serve as a wakeup call for state lawmakers that funding for general outpatient and preventive care for the poor has fallen off, Opat said. In fact, the hospital has been forced to upgrade collections operations and cut costs to save millions in recent months, as it adjusted to cuts in state aid for safety net hospitals, the Star Tribune reports.

After adding up the number of neighboring counties' uninsured residents who received both emergency and non-emergency care at the hospital from 2008 to mid-2009, HCMC officials discovered that it was shorted $6.6 million for treating 11,200 patients from outside the county, according to the Star Tribune.

"We do not believe it fair to ask the taxpayers of Hennepin County to support the care the HCMC provides to the indigent from other counties such as yours," hospital CEO Arthur Gonzalez wrote in a letter to 12 neighboring counties.

To learn more:
- read the Minnesota Public Radio article
- here's the Star Tribune article
- read the Fox 9 News article