Wisconsin hospitals spend $1.7 billion on community outreach efforts in 2013

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Wisconsin hospitals provided $1.78 billion in 2013 on programs that benefitted the community, according to the Wisconsin Hospital Association. These programs include free care for those unable to pay their bills, outreach activities related to health education, free screenings and community support groups.

Hospitals also reported they incurred $967 million in losses associated with caring for patients in the Medicaid program. Medicaid pays hospitals about 65 percent of what it costs to care for this vulnerable, and often medically-complex, patient population.

The WHA surveys its 135 member hospitals and health systems annually and asks them to describe and quantify the programs, services and activities they provide at or below cost solely because those programs fulfill a health need in the community. (See the latest report here http://www.wha.org/pubarchive/special_reports/CBreport2014.pdf.)

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The hospitals reported that in 2013 they provided $1.78 billion in community benefits, including:

  • $328 million in charity or free care,
  • $70 million on activities aimed at improving community health,
  • $193 million on health professional education and clinical experiences,
  • $32 million on health education, and
  • $17 million on free health screenings to identify health problems.

“Whether it is providing financial assistance to patients with limited resources through charity care programs or improving access to essential or primary health care services by sponsoring free medical and dental clinics, Wisconsin hospitals provide a ‘safety net’ of care in the communities they serve,” according to WHA executive vice president Eric Borgerding.  “Without that care in place, state and local government would have a much greater burden in trying to deliver these essential services to a vulnerable population.”  

While the $328 million in charity care hospitals reported in 2013 was fairly close to 2012, the number of patient encounters that qualified for free care increased dramatically. In 2013, hospitals reported 1.4 million instances of charity care, compared to 1.2 million in 2012.

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“Charity care can vary from year to year, depending on the types of cases that qualify,” said WHA senior vice president Brian Potter. “The fact that there were 200,000 more instances of free care in hospitals in 2013 than the previous year, yet the dollar value of that care stayed fairly even with past years, may reflect the fact that more services are provided in the less costly outpatient setting than in the hospital, which is consistent with what we are seeing with all patient care.”

In 2013, hospitals reported they were unable to collect $276 million in hospital costs. Anecdotally, hospitals attributed the nearly $6 million increase in bad debt over 2012 figures, in part, to the increase in deductibles and co-pays.

“While more people may be gaining coverage, we are still seeing many patients struggle to meet their co-pays and deductibles,” Potter said. “That is a real and growing concern for hospitals.”

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