As we mentioned in yesterday’s rundown, Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin has decided West Virginia will expand its Medicaid program as part of President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Here’s an excerpt from Dave’s story on today’s front page:
About 91,500 people are expected to seek coverage after the change takes effect, according to a study Tomblin commissioned. The federal government will pick up most of the tab – about $5.2 billion over the next 10 years – but West Virginia will pay about $375 million over that time period as well.
The costs would be greater if the state did nothing, Tomblin said.
“Our tax dollars would pour into other states that do expand, our businesses will be subject to additional taxes and our hospitals would lose significant financial resources,” he said.
Speaking after Thursday’s press conference, local healthcare officials said the expansion is a good move for the state. Although Medicaid typically does not reimburse hospitals and doctors’ offices at cost, it’s still better than what they currently receive from uninsured patients: nothing.
Steve Dexter, president and CEO of Thomas Health System, which covers St. Francis and Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, said Medicaid traditionally has not paid hospitals enough to recoup costs.
While private insurance companies pay St. Francis about 20 cents above cost, Medicaid only pays the hospital about 20 cents on the dollar. But Dexter said increasing the number of people on Medicaid could help the hospital’s bottom line in the future.
Uninsured patients pay, on average, about five cents on the dollar. Hospitals are required by law to treat patients, regardless of their ability to pay their bills. Dexter said some patients try to pay the hospitals back, but most don’t pay anything at all.
Dexter said those patients also are among the most expensive to treat, because they often don’t arrive at the hospital until they are chronically ill.
“We’ve had patients come in that had stage four breast cancer,” Dexter said. “You catch that at stage one, and maybe it’s a minor surgery.”