Tomah Health was among Wisconsin hospitals that provided a combined $1.7 billion in 2015 to support programs and services that impacted the communities they serve.
The Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) surveys its 133 member hospitals and health systems annually and asks them to describe and quantify the programs, services and activities they provide at or below cost, solely because those programs meet an identified health need in the community.
These activities ranged from providing free care to those unable to pay their bills, to sponsoring health improvement activities, health education, free screenings and working with partners on complex socioeconomic issues in the community.
Tomah Health chief financial officer Joe Zeps said the local health care facility provided $5 million in benefits to Tomah and the surrounding communities. “The figures contained in the WHA’s annual report demonstrate the commitment that all Wisconsin hospitals have toward the communities they serve, and we were once again proud to participate in the survey process,” Zeps said.
“Wisconsin hospitals are committing financial and human resources to improve the overall health status of our state by providing essential services in their communities, which, if they were not available, would place a much greater burden on our state and local governments,” according to WHA president/chief executive officer Eric Borgerding. “By doing this, Wisconsin hospitals and health systems support a health care ‘safety net’ across the state and ensure our most vulnerable populations receive the care they need.”
While the amount of charity care hospitals reported was $176 million in 2015, which was less than the $278 million in 2014, the number of patient visits that qualified for free care in 2015 increased 21 percent, from 1.3 million in 2014 to 1.6 million in 2015.
“Charity care can vary from year to year, depending on the types of cases that qualify,” according to WHA senior vice president / chief operating officer Brian Potter. “The fact that there were more cases, and the cost decreased, may reflect the fact that more services are provided in the less costly outpatient setting than in the hospital, which is consistent with what we are seeing with all patient care.”
Another factor that contributes to the decrease in charity care is the uninsured rate in Wisconsin is 5.7 percent, which is the six lowest uninsured rate in the country, tied with Rhode Island. There were 195,000 more people in Wisconsin with insurance coverage in 2015 since the passage of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) in 2013. “While more people have gained coverage, we still see many patients struggle to meet their co-pays and deductibles,” Potter said. “That continues to be a real concern for hospitals.”
Zeps said Tomah Health provided $553,000 in charity care this past year. “As a community hospital, one of our priorities is ensuring that no one should have to pay more than they can afford for health care services. Our financial assistance policy acts as a safety net for many of our patients, and helps ensure that health care services aren’t delayed or avoided due to concerns about getting stuck with a large bill,” said Zeps.
In 2013, under a new requirement of the Affordable Care Act, hospitals were required to complete a formal community health needs assessment (CHNA) in partnership with public health and other community partners to assess, address and prioritize community health needs.
Most of the hospitals identified several of the following as issues in their community: access to care, mental health, alcohol and drug abuse, nutrition, obesity, physical activity and tobacco. The report said hospitals spent $65 million on activities and programs aimed at improving community health.
“Hospitals have never allowed the boundaries of their campus to restrict their engagement with the community,” according to Borgerding. “Hospitals use their human and financial resources to focus on factors that improve people’s health while creating a healthier environment that attracts new economic development and makes our state a great place to live and work.”
The 2016 WHA Community Benefits Report is available by clicking HERE.