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Uninsured patients at Iowa hospitals on the rise

Thursday, January 22, 2009

DES MOINES - The number of uninsured patients seeking free care at Iowa hospitals is rising and hospital officials say they are preparing for even more as the economy continues to worsen.

The Iowa Hospital Association said in a copyright story in The Des Moines Register that charity-care costs statewide jumped 26 percent in the third quarter of 2008 compared to the same period in 2007.

"Hospitals are no different than other organizations," said Perry Meyer, a senior vice president for the state hospital group. "They're taking a huge hit."

Costs of treating the uninsured at Trinity Regional Medical Center in Fort Dodge rose from $3.3 million in 2007 to $5.9 million last year.

Tom Tibbitts, the hospital's CEO, said that Trinity has relaxed its rules on who qualifies for free care, but that the sinking economy is the biggest cause for the increase.

Officials at University of Iowa Hospitals in Iowa City and Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines say they also have seen steady increases in charity care.

Mercy saw its charity-care costs rise from $9.2 million in 2007 to $11.2 million in 2008.

Lagan said the hospital expects that number to climb as health benefits expire for patients who have lost their jobs.

Bill Leaver, chief executive officer of Iowa Health Systems, said the nine hospitals that belong to his system and their 14 rural affiliates have had mixed results when it comes to charity care.

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