Wisconsin Hospitals’ Community Outreach Efforts Total $1.68 Billion


Hospitals provide $278 million in charity care; lose $900 million on Medicaid

Mary Kay Grasmick, 608-274-1820, 575-7516

2015 CB report coverMADISON (November 25, 2015) ----Wisconsin hospitals provided $1.68 billion in 2014 on programs and services that benefitted 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. 

Hospitals also reported they incurred $900 million in losses associated with caring for patients in the Medicaid program. Medicaid pays hospitals only about 65 percent of what it costs to care for this vulnerable, and often medically-complex, patient population.

The Wisconsin Hospital Association (WHA) surveys its 132 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 fulfill a health need in the community. (See report: " Hospitals reported in 2014 they provided $1.68 billion in community benefits. Included in that total is $278 million in charity or free care (at cost), $70 million on activities aimed at improving community health and $217 million on education for health care professionals, up from $193 million in 2013.

While the amount of charity care reported dropped to $278 million in 2014 from the $328 million hospitals reported in 2013, the number of patient encounters that qualified for free care continues to track fairly closely to previous years. In 2014, the number of patient encounters that qualified for free care was 1.3 million, which was close to 2013 when hospitals reported 1.4 million instances of charity care, compared to 1.2 million in 2012.

“Charity care can vary from year to year, depending on the types of cases that qualify,” according to WHA Senior Vice President Brian Potter. “The fact that there were 200,000 more instances of free care in hospitals in 2013 than the previous year, yet the dollar value of that care stayed fairly even with past years, 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.”

In 2014, hospitals reported they were unable to collect $234 million, compared to $276 million in 2013. In 2013, hospitals reported a jump in bad debt of nearly $6 million over 2012 figures, in part due to increases in deductibles and co-pays.

“While more people may be gaining coverage, we still see many patients who struggle to meet their co-pays and deductibles,” Potter said. “That continues to be a real concern for hospitals.”

Hospitals Absorb Nearly $15 Million Loss Operating Nursing Homes

Keeping those who are elderly or in need of rehabilitation services in the community is one of the most valued and necessary services requested by their families and friends. In some communities, hospitals are the sole providers of those services. In 2014, 16 of the 18 hospitals that operated nursing homes reported losses totaling $15 million, up from $13 million in 2013. Hospice care is also becoming increasingly more available because hospitals recognize the value of end-of-life services for their patients and families. Hospitals typically report hospice services are operated at a loss. 

Wisconsin hospitals offer multiple access points in their communities to services as wide ranging as medical care at a free or reduced-fee medical clinic to screenings at health fairs, schools and other public events. By offering free health screenings and other medical services closer to where people shop, work or play, hospitals live out their missions to raise the health status of people living in their communities. 

Hospitals Identify Community Health Needs, Develop and Implement Plans

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. While the formal process is new to some, the work is not. Improving the health of the entire community is at the heart of every hospital and health system’s mission.

While each hospital conducted a CHNA, the types of problems identified across the state shared some similarities. 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.

“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 also makes our state a great place to live and work.”

Visit to review the 2015 WHA Community Benefits Report. It also has patient stories and descriptions of free and reduced cost services that hospitals provide in their communities.