TX hospital may pay patients' ACA premiums to save costs

Parkland insurance

Credit: WFAA

Parkland Memorial Hospital in Dallas is considering paying to insure the uninsured it treats, because that might be cheaper than underwriting their medical care.

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by Janet St. James

WFAA

Posted on October 2, 2013 at 1:12 PM

DALLAS — Ronald Morgan just learned his infected finger may have to be amputated. But that may not be the most painful part.

"Honestly, paying the bill for the amputation... I mean, because if I have to lose my finger, that's part of God's process, but the bill still has to come," Morgan said.

Morgan is self-employed. He makes too much to qualify for Medicaid, but not enough to pay for health insurance. He also has a pre-existing medical condition, which would increase insurance premiums.

Right now, Morgan pays medical bills out of his own pocket. He needs Parkland Memorial Hospital to give him a substantial break on his bill.

In the future, the hospital might do much for more than that.

Parkland is considering paying the health insurance premiums for some of their patients, because that might be cheaper than giving them free health care.

“We are considering that,” said Sharon Phillips, a registered nurse and senior vice president at Parkland. "We won't know until we see the rates."

“That’s not approved at the board level or any level," she noted. "But we’re looking at the fact that Texas did not expand Medicaid, so, we want the people in Texas to be as benefited by the Affordable Care Act as any state that did expand Medicaid."

Phillips said Parkland executives will be studying the low-cost policies on the federal health insurance exchange very carefully, once the policies are posted at the HealthCare.gov Website.

According to county officials, Dallas ranks fourth in the nation in the number of uninsured. Parkland alone spent $685 million in uncompensated care last year.

"You spend more in county tax dollars to take care of the uninsured than you do in all other services combined,” said Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins.

He is spending considerable time getting the word out to residents about the importance of signing up for discounted health insurance once the exchange opens October 1. Jenkins said getting residents insured isn’t just good for them; it may be very good for the health of the county budget.

"If we can take some of our 30 percent of our population that are currently uninsured and get them coverage, that's the best thing we can do — not only for their quality of life, but for the taxpayers who currently are footing the bill when those people go to the emergency room," Jenkins said.

Parkland could recoup what it spends on policies by filing for and receiving reimbursement for medical care the hospital provides. The risk is that patients with policies could also choose to get care elsewhere.

"That's a possibility,” Sharon Phillips said. “Again, we're looking at all angles. How do we reposition ourself and become more and more agile in these times, and with these kinds of changes coming down the pike?"

The plan doesn't include illegal residents, who aren't eligible to get health insurance in the federal marketplace, but are treated at Parkland as part of its mission.

Ronald Morgan said if Parkland pays for his policy, he'll pay them back with his loyal business as a patient.

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