CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- West Virginia hospitals spent more than $721 million on charity care and bad debt in 2009 -- more than double the cost in non-reimbursed care from a decade ago, according to a report by the West Virginia Hospital Association.
In 1999, state hospitals spent about $286.8 million in uncompensated care for residents without insurance or who were underinsured, according to the report "West Virginia Hospitals: Covering Community Healthcare."
"Hospitals are responsible and required to treat patients regardless of their ability to pay," said Tony Gregory, vice president of legislative affairs for the West Virginia Hospital Association.
"More folks are becoming uninsured or underinsured as the result of layoffs and other economic conditions," Gregory said. "They, for example, can't or are having difficulty paying higher premiums and insurance rates, and therefore choose not to have insurance."
In September, Charleston Area Medical Center, Saint Francis Hospital and Thomas Memorial Hospital announced salary and budget cuts. All cited the need to compensate for an increase in charity care and bad debt, as well as low Medicare and state Public Employee Insurance Agency reimbursement rates.
CAMC officials said the hospital wrote off $18 million in charity care and $20 million in bad debt in 2009.
Officials at Thomas Memorial and Saint Francis Hospital, both part of the Thomas Health System, said they paid out about $9 million in charity care in 2009, an increase from about $6 million from the pervious year.
"From 1999 up to our current year, the number for total uncompensated care has increased steadily," Gregory said. "No one really knows what health reform will bring, but the belief is by 2014 the level of uncompensated care will stabilize, in terms of more people being covered by some form of insurance."
West Virginia hospitals admitted more than 250,000 patients, delivered about 21,500 babies, and reported more than 1 million emergency room visits in 2009, according to the report.