The cost of unpaid care at hospitals has grown alarmingly for decades.
In Mankato, Mayo Clinic Health System has seen all uncompensated care go from $31.5 million in 2006 to more than $70 million in recent years.
Finally, the costs of unpaid care at Minnesota hospitals, and those across the country, are falling.
The Minnesota Department of Health reported that unpaid care fell 6 percent last year as medical centers in the state reported a significant decline in charity care costs. The decline represents $20 million. (Unpaid care includes charity care, which is either free or provided at a discount to eligible patients, and bad debt, where patients neither pay their bills nor qualify for charity programs.)
The drop in unpaid care comes as the federal Affordable Care Act — Obamacare — has allowed millions more Americans to have health insurance.
The Census Bureau reports that Minnesota’s uninsured rate fell from 8.2 percent to 5.9 percent last year.
The drop in unpaid care is heartening. Allowing more people to have health insurance not only gives them better access to health care but helps ensure they get more routine care and physical exams, both of which can head off very expensive services by catching medical issues earlier.
Those who think hospitals being unpaid for services only affects hospitals’ bottom lines and don’t effect the rest of us are wrong. That unpaid care means hospital prices rise and those with health insurance end up paying more in insurance premiums.
While the report is good news, there are still concerns.
While charity care has declined significantly, the amount of bad debt from those who don’t quality for charity care but don’t pay their bills has grown. Officials attribute that to the fact that many people are carrying ever higher deductibles on the health plans and can’t handle the costs of all those deductibles when they do require health care.
To address that problem, hospitals are considering changes to charity care policies to make discounts available to people with very high deductibles compared to their income.
And while more Americans are now insured and unpaid hospital care is falling, the overall cost of health care continues to grow. That threatens access to care, and steps to hold down costs must be a focus.
Still, the drop in unpaid hospital care and having millions more Americans on insurance are testaments to the benefit of the Affordable Care Act.