Illinois hospitals feeling pain in recession
SPRINGFIELD – The recession is making Illinois hospitals sick, and the medicine they need is cash.
Three-quarters of the state's hospitals are treating increasing numbers of uninsured patients, and just more than half are seeing decreases in admissions, particularly for elective procedures people can delay, according to the Illinois State Hospital Association.
"We've definitely seen an impact at our hospital," said Provena Covenant Medical Center spokesman Trent Pelman. "The return on our investment is down. We've seen the rate that people choose to have their elective procedures go down, and bad debt and charity care are on the increase," he said.
Rising levels of bad debt and charity care are the result of more people who can't pay their hospital bills because of job losses and who can't meet the deductibles and copayments their insurers require, Pelman added.
More recession impacts reported by the state hospital association:
– 30 percent of hospitals are experiencing longer delays in receiving commercial insurance payments.
– 47 percent are seeing increases in emergency department visits.
– 78 percent report longer delays in state payments for the care of patients in the Medicaid system.
– 20 percent are experiencing longer delays in Medicare payments.
– The recession is having a moderate impact on about one-third of hospitals in terms of meeting their day-to-day expenses, and it's having a significant impact on 17 percent.
– Hospitals are being forced to delay maintenance, renovations and upgrades of their facilities and technologies.
Rob Tonkinson, Carle Foundation Hospital senior vice president of finance, said Carle's planned $236 million expansion project continues to be on hold because of a continued difficulty to access credit. Plus, he said, the hospital is taking the same kind of hit on its investments as people are seeing in their retirement accounts. The hospital had planned to borrow $175 million for the project and finance the rest through its investment portfolio, he said.
Some 29 percent of hospitals are planning to make moderate staff reductions in the coming year, the state hospital association said.
Tonkinson said Carle doesn't anticipate further job reductions beyond the 72 jobs cut made last fall – though the hospital is being cautious about adding new staff and replacing people who leave.
Hospital association President Ken Robbins said state hospitals are urging Illinois lawmakers to take action by paying down the state's $2 billion Medicaid payment backlog – a move that will allow the state to capture nearly $3 billion in additional federal Medicaid matching funds that come with a prompt payment requirement.
Pelman said Covenant currently has unpaid Medicaid claims dating back 5/12 months.
Tonkinson said Carle's backlog of unpaid Medicaid claims continues to climb, with unpaid claims now totaling $19 million – up from $16 million as of the end of February – and dating back as far as 230 days.
"That's a long time to go without payment," he said.