Washington Insurance Commissioner Mike Kreidler has released a new statewide report today that shows the costs of uncompensated health care continued to rise in 2006, posing a threat to the overall health security of all Washington residents.
In 2002, the statewide financial burden of uncompensated care was $457 million, according to the report. By 2006, it had ballooned to $584 million. Those costs are unpaid medical costs that hospitals, physicians, community clinics and other providers must absorb when no payment is received from the patient, an insurer or a third-party payer. It is the sum of both bad debt and charity care.
This is Kreidler’s third report identifying the number of uninsured and the rising costs of uncompensated health care. The report documents by county the financial obligation communities assume when the uninsured and underinsured are unable to pay their medical bills.
“One troubling trend I see is that more of our state’s uncompensated costs are for the underinsured – people who actually have insurance, but who can’t afford to pay their medical bills because of the higher deductibles and co-pays in today’s health plans,” Kreidler said.
Strong employment growth in Washington between 2004 and 2006 resulted in slight decreases in the rate of uninsured in many regions. Only the Yakima/Tri-Cities region saw an increase in the number of uninsured. But all regions experienced climbing uncompensated care costs.
“I know that many people who have health insurance wonder why they should be concerned about the uninsured. The answer is that it costs all of us,” Kreidler said. “When emergency services are provided and the bill isn’t paid, those costs get shifted to other payers throughout the system.”
A total of 700,000 people in Washington state went without health insurance for all or part of 2006. About 70 percent of the uninsured are from working families. Middle-aged adults (35 to 64 years old) are the fastest-growing uninsured group, the report indicated.
“As a state, we can no longer refuse to act on the problem of health care coverage and access,” Kreidler said.
Kreidler plans to offer a health insurance reform proposal to the 2008 Legislature to provide a defined level of guaranteed health insurance benefits for all Washingtonians, including catastrophic coverage for major, unexpected medical costs and key preventive care such as immunizations, cancer screenings and annual checkups. He plans to release his proposal in January.
To view the report, visit http://www.insurance.wa.gov/special/coverwashington/2160-Main_Report_(2007).pdf.
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