Uncompensated care–How Much? Who Pays?

wahospitalpricing.org provides a list of the charges for various procedures at hospitals in Washington State.

The high costs are a commentary on our cost-plus, most expensive non system in the world. For example, major abdominal surgery, no complications is in the $60,000/procedure range. This does not include physician (surgeon, anesthesiologist, etc) fees and post surgical care. This procedure has an average stay of 14 days at a cost of $5,500/day.

Also of interest was the magnitude of unreimbursed care–that is charges that the hospital didn’t receive payment for because the patient qualified for free or reduced-charge care or because the patient failed to pay what was owed. This includes the “free” emergency room services offered anyone who appears for care.

For our local hospital (St. Joseph Hospital Bellingham), a facility with about $430,000,000 in total fees the unreimbursed numbers were:

Charity Care: $12,921,335
Bad Debt $7,981,155
Total Uncompensated Care $20,902,490

I then looked further at Swedish Hospital in Seattle, one of the mega institutions in our area with over $700,000,000 in total charges of which $273 million dollars is paid.

There, the numbers were:

Charity Care $12,499,950
Bad Debt $11,515,756
Total uncompensated Care $24,015,706

Would you care to guess who ultimately funds these unpaid expenses? This goes away with health reform.

Medicynical Note: At one time the largest expenditure in a person’s life was housing. Second was automobiles. Not any more! Health care with it’s $100,000/year drugs, $60,000 surgeries, and a continuing yearly cost for insurance, is our most expensive item. Without health care reform and serious cost containment it’s going to get worse.

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