Report: Wisconsin hospitals increase charity care spending

Hospitals spent $190 million on free care in 2016

Representatives from Columbia St. Mary's Foundation, Milwaukee Rescue Mission, Bank of the West, and Children's Health Alliance of Wisconsin celebrate the unveiling of a new mobile dental clinic.

Wisconsin hospitals reported spending nearly $190 million on free care in 2016, a $10 million increase over 2015, according to a new Wisconsin Hospital Association report.

The WHA’s 2017 Community Impact Report includes data from 132 hospitals across the state regarding the services they provide at or below cost to address needs in the community.

The Ascension Seton Dental Clinic is among the charity care programs highlighted in WHA’s 2017 Community Impact report.

“While the (Affordable Care Act) expanded coverage for thousands of people in our state, it did not eliminate the need for charity care,” said Eric Borgerding, president and chief executive officer of WHA. “People still fall through the cracks. The unexpected happens. They lose their job, become very ill or require emergency care that they cannot afford. That’s when hospitals and health systems step in and provide assistance to ensure their patients receive the care they need to resume as normal of a life as possible.”

Wisconsin hospitals also reported losing more than $1 billion caring for patients in the Medicaid program, along with a $1.7 billion loss on Medicare. Medicaid pays hospitals about 65 percent of what it costs to care for a vulnerable and often medically-complex patient population, the report said. Medicare reimburses hospitals at about 78 percent of cost.

In 2016, 15 hospitals that operated nursing homes reported absorbing losses of $14 million to run them, a $2 million increase over 2015.

Hospitals further reported losing $29.5 million on other public programs and spending $117.5 million on subsidized health services.

With the state facing a growing demand for health care, hospitals identified workforce shortages as one of the most pressing issues. In 2016, hospitals spent $187 million on graduate medical education for physicians and $12.5 million on education and clinical experiences for nurses, according to the report.

Access to care, mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, nutrition, obesity, physical activity and tobacco were among the most pressing problems identified in hospitals’ local community health needs assessments, according to the report.

Hospitals reported spending $68 million on activities and programs aimed at improving community health.

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