Rising number of uninsured patients thwarting profits at hospitals

With more than 46 million Americans lacking any health insurance, and many more underinsured, hospitals nationwide are digging deep into their coffers to provide for their emergency and regular care. While most hospitals across the country are affected, the situation is most dire for public hospitals, according to a new survey from the National Association of Public Hospitals and Health Systems (NAPH).

Since the current recession began, these safety-net health systems have treated more patients overall, including 23 percent more uninsured patients. Additionally, public hospitals have given 10 percent more uncompensated care to low-income patients, resulting in average cost increases of $2.3 million per hospital. At the high end, some hospitals have been hit by more than $16 million, survey results show.

"Safety-net public hospitals are treating record numbers of uninsured patients in the current economic crisis while facing severe budget cuts in many states," said Larry S. Gage, NAPH president. "Our research shows that there is a substantially increased demand by the uninsured and enrollment in Medicaid has also surged-in some states by more than 10 percent-while states continue to cut payments to providers for Medicaid services."

Public hospitals account for 2 percent of hospitals nationwide, but provide 19 percent of all hospital-based uncompensated care. More than 80 percent of the rise in patients at these hospitals comes from people who are uninsured or receiving Medicaid.

"America's public hospitals are in a precarious situation, and Medicaid cuts at the state level will hinder their ability to continue serving as our nation's healthcare safety net," Gage said. "The impact will weaken the fragile viability of the nation's safety net and force public hospitals to close their doors due to inadequate financing."

To learn more about this financial conundrum for hospitals:
- read this release about the NAPH study