Hospitals Ration Care to Medicaid Patients

hospitalA strange thing happens when people stop getting paid for their services: They stop providing them. This is not necessarily wrong or evil or bad -- it’s just a fact of life. We all have things we need to spend money on: The mortgage or rent, groceries, clothes, lessons for our kids, gas for our cars, school loans that need to be paid back, etc. 

We go to work and trade our services for the services of other people. A cobbler can make footwear all day long, but she can’t eat shoes for supper. So she sells her shoes in exchange for money, which she then gives to the grocer for some food. If the cobbler cannot make enough money to pay her bills, there’s no point in continuing to make shoes.

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Hospitals have costs too. They have to pay their doctors, nurses, custodial staff, lab technicians, and all the other various employees (who in turn then have to pay their own bills); they have to pay for their fancy equipment; and they have to pay for the building they’re using and all of the upkeep costs associated with it.

So what happens when the government comes in and makes it illegal for people to charge what their services are worth? They’ll stop providing them. Not because they’re horrible people, but because they have to pay their bills too.

The government has decided to provide medical care for those that can’t afford it, at the taxpayer’s expense. To keep costs low, Uncle Sam has dictated how much money a medical care facility is allowed to charge the government for the services rendered. It is nearly always below the amount it costs the place.

It’s odd that politicians think that fewer people paying for more services will drive down the cost of health care. All it does is limit the available care. There’s a word for that -- rationing.

The most recent round of rationing is going to some of the 69 million Americans that participate in the Medicaid program. Their overnight hospital stays will be limited to a certain amount over the course of a year. Several states have already imposed such caps, and Arizona and Hawaii plan to join them. Stays in Arizona will be limited to 25 per year, and Hawaiians on Medicaid max out at 10 nights.

The hospitals just can’t afford to operate unless they get paid. Don’t think they’re heartless though ... patients will be allowed to stay if it’s deemed medically necessary. Peter Wertheim, a spokesman for the Arizona Hospital and Healthcare Association, said the hospitals will get stuck with the bill, but they won’t discharge or refuse to admit patients who medically need to be there.

There are a lot of things that could be done to ease the strain on our health care system, but mandating that highly skilled workers practice their trade for inadequate compensation is not one of them.


Image via boliston/Flickr

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