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Uninsured patients taking a toll on everyone

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Barbara DiMecurio Barbara DiMecurio
Dennis Manners Dennis Manners
Patty Stivers Patty Stivers
Dennis Devore Dennis Devore
University of Louisville Hospital's progression of indigent care costs. University of Louisville Hospital's progression of indigent care costs.

LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - A WAVE 3 investigation found local hospitals are losing tens of millions of dollars a year in medical care for people without insurance. It's a staggering increase from just a few years ago and you are paying for it whether you have insurance or not.

The best example of the uninsured patient problem in Louisville is 100 miles away right now near Cincinnati.

"He lived on the street and because he came to us so much he was actually giving the hospital as his address," said Barbara DiMercurio, University Hospital Emergency Services Director.

Dennis Manners racked up so many visits, over so many years, University Hospital sent him to an addiction treatment center outside Cincinnati.

"He would come to our facility 25 times a month," said DiMercurio, "sometimes three times a day."

"Just go to the hospital all the time," said Manners.

How much can an uninsured homeless man really cost to care for? Medical bills for Manners this past year totaled $468,246.

"I was depending on them and I really thought they would kick me out the door," said Manners.

"You can't say ‘no' to anyone who walks into the emergency room," said DiMercurio.

Of the patients coming to University Hospital these days 22 percent cannot pay anything.

"For some people it's their only option," said Patty Stivers, a case worker at University Hospital. "They don't have the co-pay, 15 or 20 dollar co-pay that's required before they can be seen in one of the community health centers."

Indigent care costs at University Hospital rose sharply to $88 million last year. Government reimbursements totaled $67 million. That's a net loss to the hospital topping $20 million.

Norton Hospitals report $69 million in unreimbursed indigent care for the year. They received $49 million in reimbursements for a loss of $20 million.

Baptist Healthcare reports a charity care net loss of $35 million, plus an unreimbursed Medicaid loss of $25 million, and $20 million lost in bad debt, which is people they thought could pay, but didn't. That $80 million loss is an 80 percent increase from five years ago. Guess who's paying?

"All of those costs, basically, they're shifted to premiums of the commercial payer," said Carl Herde, the chief financial officer of Baptist Healthcare. "You make up for all these losses on the government side and charity side with the premium through commercial payers."

Six months ago, University Hospital started taking a closer look at frequent visits by uninsured patients.

"What I'm seeing is that people are trying to hold on to the providers they had when they had health insurance, and they struggled to pay those doctor bills and they finally got to a point where they're just no longer able to do it," Stivers said.

The situation is getting so out of hand University Hospital is now seeing people without dental insurance show up with toothaches.

"I was blacking out severely, and the pain was so strong, that I couldn't do nothing," said Dennis Devore, an uninsured patient.

If people like Devore are in pain, they can't be turned down. Sometimes, they have to admit the patient to the hospital to pull a tooth. Imagine what that costs in a hospital.

"That's why everyone says the existing system is not sustainable," said Herde.

Copyright 2012 WAVE News. All rights reserved.

WEB EXTRAS: Boel Heath insurance

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RAW: Interview with Danny, who hurt his ankle, has no health insuranceRAW: Interview with Dennis, had a tooth removed, has no insuranceRAW: Woman explains the men's facility

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