Sonoma Valley Hospitals Spend $50 Million To Treat Uninsured
Sonoma County's eight hospitals spent more than $50 million last year to care for uninsured or underinsured patients, the Santa Rosa Press Democrat reports. While the spending on care for such patients is "often for good causes," the costs are "rippling through the hospital system where budgets are already under strain" from rising wages for nurses, increasing demands for new technology and higher utilization by baby boomers, the Press Democrat reports. According to officials for Memorial Hospital and Sutter Medical Center, the hospitals spend the equivalent of 10% of patient revenues on charity care or funding for health care programs for low-income communities. More than 50% of the $50 million in uncompensated care costs were from patient accounts on which the hospitals attempted to collect but failed. About 40% of the total cost for uncompensated care came from community benefit contributions, which are hospital-funded programs that directly help the uninsured. About 1,600 patients -- called "frequent fliers" -- accounted for more than 15,000 emergency room visits to Sutter and Memorial last year, hospital officials say, the Press Democrat reports. The average cost of treating such patients was $8,534 at Sutter and $9,275 at Memorial, according to an ongoing study by Sutter, Memorial and the Coastal Valley Emergency Medical Services Agency. About 65% of frequent ER patients were uninsured or underinsured at Sutter. An estimated 60,000 Sonoma County residents, or 13% of the population, are uninsured (Rose, Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 10/19).
Hospitals "have become the insurer of last resort for many patients," which is "breaking the system," a Santa Rosa Press Democrat editorial states. However, there has been "zero" leadership on the issue, the editorial says, adding that local attempts "fizzled out" following the bankruptcy of Health Plan of the Redwoods. In addition, state-level attempts to expand health coverage are "gathering dust on a bureaucrat's shelf, without money to fund them," and federal-level lawmakers do not "seem interested in going further than creating" a Medicare prescription drug benefit, according to the editorial. "Unfortunately for hospitals -- and for insured people who are paying higher rates to cover some of the costs of uncompensated care -- the numbers will likely get worse before they get better," the editorial concludes (Santa Rosa Press Democrat, 10/21).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.