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Will Philadelphia hospitals see relief from uninsured?

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

Hospitals in the region are applauding President Obama’s signing of the health care bill yesterday. The bill’s health insurance requirement is expected to ease the burden hospitals shoulder when dealing with uninsured patients. But millions of people will still remain uninsured, and they’ll have to go somewhere for care:

There’s a common complaint that hospital emergency rooms are the safety net for uninsured patients who can’t afford to see primary care physicians or other doctors. So requiring 30 million more people to have insurance should relieve that problem, right? Not necessarily, says Arthur Feldman, the chair of medicine at Thomas Jefferson University. He says the majority of uninsured patients his hospital sees — such as homeless people, drug abusers, illegal residents and psychiatric patients — will still be uninsured.

Feldman: There’s no way that government is ever going to capture that group of patients, nor can the government fine them for not having insurance. And where are they going to wind up? They’re going to wind up in safety net hospitals.

Still, Feldman says the bill is a positive step toward getting more people insured. It just doesn’t address the issues that plague the inner city.

Ken Braithwaite is with The Hospital and Healthsystem Association of Pennsylvania. He says hospitals nationwide are sacrificing $100-billion dollars in Medicare and Medicaid cuts to help pay for the bill. But the idea is they will profit in the end by extra business.

Braithwaite: A lot of the cuts to hospitals continue in 2014 and continue thereafter. So I think these first few years will be a transitionary period that will allow us to appropriately manage the increased patients that we’ll see.

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