Hospitals get $17.7 million for charity care
Checks totaling $17.7 million to Hawaii hospitals will not plug their facilities' bleeding financial accounts, but every bit helps, hospital executives said.
The money -- $10 million from the federal government and $7.7 million in matching state funds -- was distributed Wednesday by state Human Services Director Lillian Koller to help offset costs of charity care for uninsured patients.
U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, who worked with Hawaii's other congressional representatives to obtain the federal funds, said at least another $7.5 million will be available for 2008. Bills are pending in the state Legislature to authorize $4 million to $5 million in matching funds.
State House Health Chairman Josh Green, an emergency physician, said a $25.4 million emergency appropriations bill also will be approved for the 15 public hospitals administered by the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.
The state hospital system has been reported to be in a crisis because Medicare and Medicaid reimbursements are far below costs, and health care needs are increasing.
Hospital expenses exceeded patient revenues by $150 million in 2006, and bad debt and charity care for the uninsured totaled $143 million last year, according to an Ernst & Young study of hospital finances.
Koller said the federal-state funding is an example of teamwork by Hawaii's congressional delegates, Gov. Linda Lingle and legislators to provide "the best possible health care to the people of Hawaii regardless of ability to pay."
The DHS has obtained about $175 million from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services since 2005 to help cover costs for uninsured patients in Hawaii's public and private hospitals.
No federal funds were available for charity care between 1994 and 2005, the DHS said.
Susan Murray, Healthcare Association of Hawaii board chairwoman, expressed thanks for the infusion of money on behalf of the member hospitals. "This is an amazing moment for us," she said.
The $143 million spent on uncompensated care last year "is a lot of money," she said. But, she added, "We have decided as a society, nationally and locally, that health care is such an important commodity, regardless of ability to pay, care should be rendered."
The funds distributed last week were apportioned by the Healthcare Association of Hawaii on a formula related to hospital losses. The Queen's Medical Center, which operates the state's trauma center, received the largest amount, $6,171,681. Others major recipients were:
» Kapiolani Medical Center for Women & Children, $2.6 million.
» Straub Clinic & Hospital, $1.5 million.
» Hawaii Medical CenterEast, $1.3 million.
» Castle Medical Center, $1.1 million.
» Kaiser Permanente Medical Center, $1.08 million.