Hospital asks parish for millions

Will use money to help pay off unpaid medical bills

July 09, 2008 at 9:56 am  | Mobile Reader | Pring this storyPrint 

Whether it's noon or midnight, when an accident occurs in St. Charles Parish, the victims are rushed to the hospital and treated by a staff that is on call 24 hours a day.

And though the hospital workers may have to work long hours to make sure someone is always there to care for the sick, some of the people they treat leave the hospital and don’t pay their bills.

St. Charles Parish Hospital Director Fred Martinez requested $8.3 million to cover

“It's a very difficult situation when people don't pay their medical bills,” Martinez said. “A lot of pressure was put on us when Charity of New Orleans closed, and a lot of clinics were associated with that hospital where people went that didn't have insurance.”

Martinez says people are now using his emergency room as a primary care clinic.
“Since Katrina, the hospital has taken on a tremendous amount of free care,” he said. “And the rural hospitals like ours don't get compensated until two years later because of the way Medicaid/Medicare payments are reimbursed to us.”
Martinez says 30 percent of the hospital's business is based off of those unpaid bills, or uncompensated care.

“Health care and uncompensated care has been a huge concern and a problem, not only in Louisiana, but all over the country,” he said. “The way we dealt with people who had an inability to pay was through the Charity Hospital that closed down in New Orleans.”

The loan request is partly due to changes in the way uncompensated care is reimbursed to the hospital.

Martinez also noted that all of the different billing systems hospitals must contend with make administration costs significantly higher now than they would be under a universal healthcare system.

Because of that Martinez asked for, and received, council approval to apply for a long-term $8.3 million loan. He also got the go ahead to apply for an additional $6 million that doesn't have to be repaid until 2015.

“Normally, I would pay off the loan I got from the parish in October of this year. I may not be in a position to do that, so I wanted to stretch it out longer and get out of the cycle we're in,” he said. “That's the reason I requested the loan be extended to 2015.

“We are classified as a rural hospital so we get uncompensated payments from the state,” Martinez said. “We get paid 100 percent of our uncompensated care, but every year the number of cases seems to go up.”

Martinez says that even though the hospital gets reimbursed for the unpaid bills, the money comes two years after the fact.

“Each year we have to go before the council and ask for money to get us through the year,” he said. “But once the council approves it, we still have to go before the state bond commission.”

Martinez says they review things a lot closer than the parish government does.
“The $8.3 million that I got permission to borrow, we haven't done anything with that yet,” he said. “We borrowed $5 million in additional money and we only used about $2 million so far. Part of that money was used because we needed startup money for the operations at the new facility.”

The hospital's new wing, which opened April 19, includes more psychiatric beds, a medical-surgical unit and other facilities that are designed to generate more revenue.
Uncompensated care includes emergency room treatment that patients are unable to pay for.

By law, hospitals cannot refuse anyone who seeks treatment in an emergency room regardless of their ability to pay.
Uncompensated care costs Louisiana residents more than $100 million last year.

View other articles written Shonna Riggs

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