President’s Column: WHA’s 2018 Community Benefits Report

By Eric Borgerding, Wisconsin Hospital Association President and CEO

March 19, 2019

One of Wisconsin’s most valuable assets is our top-ranked health care system: number one in Midwest and fourth best in the nation, according to the federal Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality last year.  It is some of the highest quality of care in the country—and available to every person, every minute, every day in our state’s hospitals.  

But, that’s only part of the story. In addition to providing access to great care, Wisconsin’s hospitals are often the foundation of their communities, reaching far beyond the hospital walls to help address critical, unmet local health and human service needs. When added up, Wisconsin’s hospitals provided nearly $5 million every day in free care and community support. And that’s a conservative number:  if WHA used the IRS definition of charity care and community benefits, that figure would be closer to 
$11 million.

Wisconsin hospitals support neighborhood health centers, ensure citizens have access to free meals and can purchase their medication, help find transportation and housing, bring dental services into our schools, and much more. Many of these services would not be possible without the support of our hospitals and the dedicated health care professionals who give their time and compassion.  

Wisconsin’s hospitals are the state’s health safety net, and they cast it widely across their communities. Below are just a few examples:

A Tomahawk man in his 80s had 100% of his hospital costs covered when faced with unexpected medical bills he could not afford to pay on his fixed income.
Sexual assault survivors in Oshkosh received trauma-informed care and support services.
Hospital pharmacists, lab technicians, nurses, physician assistants, and other colleagues provided free health services and medication for those living in poverty in Eau Claire.
Single women and families in Janesville who were homeless received emergency shelter and case management services to provide stability and help them become self-sufficient.

You will find dozens more examples in WHA’s 2018 Community Benefits Report, which highlights the financial assistance, programs, services, and activities hospitals provide for free in their communities.

Hospitals ensure everyone receives the treatment they need and deserve—even when a patient or family cannot pay for their care, or when receiving inadequate reimbursement from the state Medicaid and federal Medicare programs. In 2017, Wisconsin hospitals lost nearly $1.1 billion caring for 295,585 patients in the Medicaid program, and another $2.1 billion caring for Medicare patients. The Wisconsin Medicaid program reimburses hospitals just 65 cents for every dollar they spend caring for a Medicaid patient. Medicare reimbursement is only slightly better, covering about 78% of the cost of care.

Other businesses are not asked to provide products or services at 35% below their own cost, or for some, 100% below cost when they do not have the ability to pay. But, in Wisconsin hospitals, the doors are always open and the nearly 130,000 professionals they employ are proud of the care they give to all in need, and the services and support they contribute to their neighbors, families and communities. 

Wisconsin’s hospitals are always there.

This story originally appeared in the March 19, 2019 edition of WHA Newsletter