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Not Prince Hamlet

"Full of high sentence, but a bit obtuse."

Free Health Care

Monday, May 22, 2006

NPH is a medical spouse, the low-glamour end of the dynamic marriage of a doctor and a minister (doctor T.V. shows abound, while minister T.V. shows get cancelled after a few episodes--read: "Life of Daniel").

As such, NPH hears a lot from his wife about the free medical services doled out by the hospitals in which she works in the center of this Heartland city. And now she has evidence.

"[The center-city's] two busy hospitals delivered more than half the
charity care provided by . . .area hospitals. No other hospital
came close to matching the $38 million in care [center city hospital] gave without
charge to poor, uninsured patients. [The hospitals] also wrote off $7 million in
bad debt."

That's from a Star piece about charity health care as depicted by a recent report of the Missouri Hospital Association. The story continues:

"The traditional categories used to measure a hospital’s benefits to the
community are charity care provided with no anticipation that patients
will be able to pay, and bad debt, the unpaid bills hospitals have
given up trying to collect. Together, these categories make up a
hospital’s uncompensated care.

'We are looking more broadly than a charity care or uncompensated care
report,' Becker said. 'We’re looking at the broad range of benefits
hospitals make to their communities.'"

By those "more broad" measurements, those two central city hospitals actually lag behind other urban hospitals in this area when it comes to charity care.

Charity care, the MHA wants to argue, is about more than care for the uninsured and written-off debt. But the center city hospital's president argues, "I think people go where they feel welcome and they're treated with dignity and services are available."

Treated with dignity? That gets harder and harder as the load of uninsured people needing health care gets heavier and heavier. Because almost all of that weight is felt in the central part of the metro area, and not out in the sprawling suburbs, where all of the new hospitals and home developments are being built.

NPH can't avoid the irony that the word "hospital" comes from the same root as "hospitality," and that a hospital's ability to treat people with "dignity" is now a measurement of its charity. Dignity is what the invention of the hospital was all about.

posted by Not Prince Hamlet, 8:34 AM


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