TRENTON, Mo. -- The number of people receiving charity care at hospitals in Missouri has surged 400 percent since 2004. Hospitals say they provided a record $1.1 billion in uncompensated care last year.
Governor Jay Nixon cited the alarming increase as a reason to expand Medicaid coverage under President Barack Obama's Affordable Care Act.
Gov. Nixon visited Wright Memorial Hospital to make his case for expanding Medicaid in the Show-Me state. While some may assume most of the unpaid bills are at large public hospitals in big cities, Saint Luke's Health System says it's just as likely to see folks who can't pay, show up at emergency rooms at rural hospitals.
"In the rural areas, like the cities, you have individuals who work one job, two jobs, oftentimes not enough hours to qualify for full-time employment and very often for employers who don't offer coverage," said Nancy Seelen, vice president of public affairs for St. Luke's Health System. "These individuals are at an income level where whenever they require care, with no insurance, they simply cannot pay for it. "
That's why Nixon chose to come to Trenton to defend his decision to expand Medicaid coverage using federal money. 300,000 working Missourians will get coverage under the expansion, Nixon said. The governor says accepting $1.8 billion a year from Washington, D.C., to cover all the costs for the first three years will reduce the $45 million in charity care St. Luke's Health System provided last year, and help keep down costs for those who do have health coverage.
"Not only will it allow us to eat into that $1-billion plus of uncompensated care," Gov. Nixon said. "There can be downward pressure on rates for others. As well as folks engaging in health care at earlier times. So they're not engaging in emergency rooms like we have here."
The governor claims expanding Medicaid will create 24,000 new jobs in 2014 alone. Under the expansion Nixon says those who earn about $15,000 a year would be eligible for the expanded health coverage.
The governor says he does anticipate a fight in the legislature. Republican legislative leaders have said state money to fund the expanded coverage after the first three years may have to come from public education, something they oppose.