As number of uninsured decreases, some N.J. hospitals spend less on charity care

    Health-industry watchers are offering up some best guesses about new health-care data released this week, including reports that the number of uninsured Americans dropped last year.In New Jersey, health-care executives are weighing those national numbers against news that hospitals across the state spent less on charity care in 2011.

    It’s not clear yet if the decline is the beginning of a trend, says Kerry McKean Kelly, spokeswoman for the New Jersey Hospital Association.

    “We are seeing hospital admissions down overall,” Kelly said. “When the economy is bad, people very often delay elective procedures because they don’t want to miss work, and that sort of thing. So we may very well be seeing that on the charity side as well.”New Jersey’s Health Commissioner Mary O’Dowd says a number of market forces may have pushed down the spending totals including the expansion of health coverage access through the Affordable Care Act or changes in Medicaid reimbursements.Contrary to the statewide tally, at least two health systems in South Jersey say their charity care spending rose last year.”It depends on what community and region you look at. Some hospitals have continued increases and some hospitals have gone up and down over the years,” O’Dowd said.

    The state provides five-year summaries to address those fluctuations.

    Some paperwork glitches make it hard for an outsider to interpret the charity care trends at his hospital, according to John DiAngelo, the chief financial officer at South Jersey Healthcare.

    DiAngelo found that spending on traditional state-defined charity care was up about a million dollars in 2011.

    “Cumberland County is one of the poorest counties in the state, we probably just see more patients that qualify for charity care,” DiAngelo said.

    He said the health system has also extended its qualifying criteria, and the hospitals spent another $23 million on those patients last year.Officials at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital also noted spending increases for charity care.

    At the national level, 50 million is the often-quoted number of the uninsured in America. But pundits and health advocates may need to update their talking points on people living without coverage. The number of uninsured Americans dropped for the first time in four years, according to U.S. Census estimates released this week. The new total is 48.6 million.

     

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