Repealing health-care act a mistake
A few years ago, many Colorado hospitals faced a common problem: how to cover the cost of patients without insurance.
Hospitals can't turn away the sick, and if uninsured patients couldn't pay for their care, or public programs did not cover the hospital's cost, the bill for that "uncompensated care" was passed on, or shifted, to individuals and businesses with health-care coverage.
In 2009, lawmakers passed the Colorado Health Care Affordability Act to help address this problem. The Colorado Hospital Association and doctors and consumer groups supported the law.
Now, there is an effort in the General Assembly to repeal this law, after little more than a year - and after the law is producing documented benefits.
The key feature of the law is a "provider fee" assessed on 83 hospitals. The fee and matching federal funds help reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care, and with time the money will expand Medicaid coverage for many uninsured Coloradans. Thirty other states have adopted similar programs.
Through December, 31,625 Coloradans have been enrolled in Medicaid (27,596 adults in Medicaid, 3,759 CHP+ kids and 270 CHP+ prenatal) thanks to the Health Care Affordabili-ty Act. When fully implemented in 2012, the program will have added 100,000 previously uninsured Coloradans. The provider fee covers the state's full share of Medicaid expansion created in the law.
Uncompensated or under-compensated care does not result solely from patients who cannot pay bills. It includes charity care and underpayment from Medicare and Medicaid. Before the law, hospitals were paid about 56 cents of every dollar of care provided to a Medicaid patient. In the new law, those payments increased to just more than 70 cents. Thus, the cost of uncompensated care is not eliminated but greatly reduced.
This law clearly has helped hospitals across the state with their bottom line. Nearly one-third of hospitals that had losses in 2009 were able to generate operating income in 2010. That income can be used to expand staff, enhance electronic record keeping and make other improvements.
According to the Colorado Hospital Association, operating losses for 13 hospitals in 2010 would have been about 40 percent greater if not for the revenue from the hospital provider fee. According to Peg Burnett, chief financial officer for Denver Health, "Without this funding, we believe that we would have had to significantly cut staffing and care to the uninsured. I don't know where we would have been without this."
All of these benefits are paid without a single dollar from Colorado taxpayers. In addition, insured Coloradans benefit from reduced cost-shifting.
But House Bill 1025 would undo the Colorado Health Care Affordability Act. Supporters of repeal maintain that the hospital provider fee will be passed on to insured patients, even though the law specifically prevents this, and again, the data show that cost-shifting is significantly reduced.
Also, keep in mind that cost-shifting was greater without the provider fee, and repealing the law would only return Colorado to the original system.
The new law is working, and it should be allowed to continue.
Bob Semro is a policy analyst at the Bell Policy Center, a nonprofit, nonpartisan policy research organization.