Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Charity Care Slides at St. Louis Area Hospitals, Report Finds

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Charity Care Slides at St. Louis Area Hospitals, Report Finds

Article excerpt

After seven years of increases, the level of charity care provided by area hospitals dipped slightly in 2013, according to a new report by the St. Louis Area Business Health Coalition.

While the reason for the slight decline remains unclear, it came at a time when hospital profits were on the rise and when the state had yet to expand Medicaid to cover more uninsured individuals throughout the state, the report found.

Overall, in the St. Louis area charity care as a percentage of revenue slipped to 2.93 percent in 2013 from 3.02 the year prior.

"We're not exactly sure why there was this blip," said Karen Roth, the report's author and director of research for the business coalition. She called the results surprising.

Charity care is defined as health care services offered to low- income individuals by a hospital for free or at a reduced cost. Typically, the beneficiaries of charity care do not have any kind of insurance coverage.

Nonprofit hospitals, which dominate the St. Louis market, are exempt from federal, state and local taxes. In return, they're expected to provide charity care for low-income individuals. In Missouri, there is no requirement for how much charity care a nonprofit hospital should provide.

BJC HealthCare, the area's largest hospital provider, disputes the details of the report that show charity care decreased overall at its hospitals in 2013.

"The Business Health Coalition reports charity care as a percentage of operating revenues. BJC's operating revenues increased in 2013, as did our overall charity care. The slight decrease you question is likely a function of a math calculation rather than a decrease in actual charity care/assistance provided," said June Fowler, BJC spokeswoman.

SSM Health, which also experienced a minor decrease in charity care as a percentage of operating revenue, said it was normal to see "minor fluctuations" each year due to economic conditions.

Hospital operating income in the region increased 20 percent during 2013, according to the report. …

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