Let’s look at some numbers.
The University of Louisville is going to try and make a case that it has unique requirements that will require additional non-patient revenue to fix. Specifically, they are asking for more state money, or alternatively, permission to partner with an outside business entity that is willing to give them more money. The claim will be made they are caring for a disproportionate share of nonpaying patients, and do not have enough profitable patients to subsidize the losses the way other hospitals do. This is a reasonable argument to make but it is an incomplete one. The University’s problem will not be fixed by money alone. There are a host of other issues that must be addressed simultaneously. I have begun to discuss these elsewhere.
There are 3502 acute care hospitals that participate in the Medicare program. Of these, 1047 are teaching hospitals, and 601 are large urban teaching hospitals like the University of Louisville Hospital. It would be easy for the University or its consultants to pick and choose hospitals to compare with that would bolster its case. Picking your own benchmarks is one way to make yourself look good, or in this case bad. Much of the University’s credibility will hinge on the choice of comparable institutions. Fortunately, there is an ocean of comparative data available that I believe helps put things in perspective and can provide a starting point for a broad-based study of our medical school and its principal teaching hospital. I will try to present such information on the Institute’s website. Such analysis often challenges popular wisdom.
For example, teaching hospitals get billions of dollars of special funding from Medicare (and Medicaid) solely because they have medical residents on their wards. These Direct and Indirect payments for Graduate Medical Education (interns and residents) increased substantially over the years as a result of effective lobbying. It was argued from the start that teaching hospitals deserve more money because they have extra expenses related to faculty salary, inefficiencies of care, and for other reasons that may or may not be relevant today. Federal analysts estimate that Medicare pays teaching hospitals twice as much for graduate medical education than the actual cost of those programs to the hospitals. Not to be denied, the teaching hospital lobby continues to argue that they are entitled to the extra money because of their disproportionate service to the poor. Is it in fact true that teaching hospitals take care of more of the poor than non-teaching hospitals? I was frankly surprised when my first attempt to find out showed that in fact, the proposition does not appear to be true. Continue reading “How does UofL hospital compare to other hospitals?”
And Who Will Take Care of the Poor?
One doesn’t ask of one who suffers: What is your country and what is your religion? One merely says, you suffer, That is enough for me. You belong to me and I shall help you. Attributed to Louis Pasteur.
The Commonwealth of Kentucky once required hospitals and doctor’s offices to post the prices of their top 20 services. This was fair– hospitals were asking their patients how they expected to pay. The policy concept of disclosure was and is reasonable, but the results were embarrassing, unused, and perhaps not even helpful. Under pressure, the Commonwealth repealed the law after two years.
I suggest we would all feel better (and probably even be better) if we would post the above thesis instead. Why don’t we? Most or all of the doctors with whom I went to medical school would have echoed Pasteur at the time. I suspect most hospital administrators and their corporate boards also wish they could post Pasteur’s profession on their front doors. After all, the earliest hospitals were established almost entirely to serve the poor. The non-profit status of today’s hospitals stems from those charitable roots. The sad fact is that in our system, no single physician or hospital could stay in business if they actually tried to serve all who showed up on their doorstep. It takes a community effort. In Louisville, talk of indigent care usually focusses on University Hospital. Why is that, and should it?
Fitness of University Hospital to serve the poor.
Earlier this month, and under the sword of an examination by the State Auditor’s Office, the University of Louisville announced that it would review its hospital operations to address questions of the strengths and vulnerabilities that were raised during the debate over their proposed merger/acquisition by Catholic Health Initiatives. They will retain an outside consultant of their choosing and have named a 9 person review committee. We are told that the review will consider how University Hospital compares to other academic hospitals financially and in the amount of “indigent care” provided. The University obviously still has a partnership on its mind, but declined to answer a direct question of whether it had resumed discussions with the new KentuckyOne Health entity. [Of course it has!]
I credit the University folks for opening the planned meetings to the public, but it looks to me that they want to control what is discussed just as tightly as they did when they rolled out their campaign for last Fall’s failed merger. Faced with a truly independent outside audit, and still embroiled in the courts over their withholding of court-ordered documents, some damage control might be judged imperative. It is axiomatic in matters such as these, that if you can select the issues and define the vocabulary of the debate, you have won before you even start. The University wants this discussion to be about how many medically indigent patients they serve, and to convince us that all that is needed is more money from the state or elsewhere. One strategy that I see evolving, seeks to give the Governor and Attorney General’s offices the political cover needed to reverse their previous rejection of the CHI acquisition. The University leadership has (1.) already demanded more money than they know the Commonwealth can provide, (2.) will claim that only more money will solve the problem, and then (3.) present once again a deal they still hope to make with Jewish Hospital and CHI, (now KentuckyHealth One). This would be an incomplete victory. Continue reading “University of Louisville’s Review of Its Hospital Operations.”
Slow-Payments or No-Payments for medical care.
A week ago I was pretty tough on a possibly hypothetical physician who was said at a Frankfort hearing to have abandoned two child patients because one of the three new Kentucky Medicaid Managed care vendors had not paid him for three months. What is not hypothetical is that the Medicaid system is now in shambles. There are now four independent Medicaid managed care systems in Kentucky plus original Medicaid itself to deal with. Each of these has its own bureaucracy and unique systems. Thats a lot of different hoops for physicians and other healthcare providers to jump through. I have no doubt all are pulling their hair out. By all accounts, all three new vendors are in the pay-slow, pay-low mode. Cynics will point out that this is an easy way for an insurer to make a profit. After all, even Kentucky government uses the gimmick of paying healthcare providers late as a way to balance the books and make it look like they have actually been doing their jobs.
It is easy to assume that the three new managed care companies are to blame. That does not easily explain why all three seem to have failed at the same time, or why they appear successful in other states in which they work. When I worked in Kentucky Medicaid in the 1990s during my first-ever sabbatical and later as a faculty fellow, it was clear to me that there were major inadequacies in the state’s Medicaid computer systems and their ability to transfer and analyze information. I hope things have improved since then. Remember that all information about eligible beneficiaries, hospitals, and other providers has to be transferred to the managed care companies and continually updated so they know who to pay and for what. The three vendors have been silent publicly, but I will bet a martini in your favorite Louisville bar that internally they are struggling to interface with the state’s system. When you consider that each hospital and doctor’s office may also have their own computer system, it is no surprise that Kentucky Medicaid is staggering under its own weight and complexity. I hope we can pull out of this death spiral of cost and confusion. I still expect the state and providers to hold patients harmless, but that cannot continue infinitely. What a mess! Continue reading “Kentucky Medicaid is a Mess.”
Yesterday, Phil Galewitz reported for Kaiser Health News (reprinted in USA Today) on a practice that is one of my biggest disappointments in our health care system, the sale of our personal health information for the benefit of someone else. I do not mean the use of de-identified medical information to improve public health, medical quality, enhancement our ability to treat disease, or even for law enforcement. I am talking about the use of your individual health information to try to sell you something else that you may or not need. Did you ever wonder why all of a sudden you started getting ads for diabetes supplies? Or why ads for erectile dysfunction started arriving in your mailbox as well as your email? It is because your personally identifiable medical information is being shared to improve the bottom lines of those who have access to your medical records. The story highlighted the practices of hospitals that use information from their medical records to peddle other services to their current or former patients Partnering with mass marketing companies, your hospital knows a lot more about you than is present in their records. For example, if you smoke, you get a directed ad for lung cancer screening. Believe me, when you come in for a “screening,” something can almost always be found that ”needs” to be done. Screening can be a hospital’s or doctor’s best friend. It all depends on how ethical or financially strapped the provider is that determines how far evidence-based scientific medical practice will be stretched. Examples of abuse are easy to find. Continue reading “Loss of Medical Privacy? Is that OK?”