Uninsured patients costs emergency rooms millions - WNCN: News, Weather

Uninsured patients costs emergency rooms millions

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JACKSONVILLE, N.C. - For those without insurance, the emergency room is often the first place they go to get medical help.

"Many of these people have never been able to go see a doctor in an office," said Adam Searing, who works at NC Justice Center. "The emergency room was the first place they ended up."

But uninsured visits to the ER mean bills left unpaid.

In 2013, around 25% of the 64,631 patients treated in Onslow Memorial Hospital's ER were uninsured. These visits left more than $7 million worth of unpaid bills.

"It's just considered business as usual. It's how we operate," said Amy Sousa, who works at Onslow Memorial Hospital.

Vidant facilities in Eastern Carolina treated 57,577 uninsured patients in 2013. The total charges in their emergency departments from these visits was more than $51.2 million. Of those charges, Vidant only collected a little more than $3.7 million.

These types of loses force hospitals to cost shift, which is where they use more profitable departments to cover their loses.

Sousa says it's getting more difficult to balance their budget.

"There's only so much cutting you can do and still provide a quality service, and we're about at that point," Sousa said.

Community Care of North Carolina tries to find affordable health options for those without insurance. Health Assist is part of that program, and helps the uninsured in Pitt and Greene counties.

"We try to be a resource for the community and for other healthcare professionals to let them know what might help reduce a patient's dependency on the emergency room," said Lynn Howard, who works with uninsured patients for Health Assist.

Sousa says preventative care is key, but knows the problems hospitals face are hard to fix.

"There will be folks who come to the emergency department, even if they have insurance, they can't afford their co-pay. They can't afford their $3,000 deductible. It will continue to be a problem for us," said Sousa.

To find a clinic near you offering free services to the uninsured, visit the NC Association of Free Clinic's website.

If you, or someone you know, is uninsured and needs help, you can also visit the NC Community Health Center Association's website to find the closest center to you.
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