Providing Care for North Carolina’s Patients

The following communication was sent to North Carolina’s state representatives this afternoon:

While health care boosts the physical and economic health of our state, many North Carolinians cannot afford the health care they need. That is why every hospital affiliated with the UNC Health Care System offers care to every single patient that enters our doors, regardless of their ability to pay.

In total, UNC provides approximately $2 billion yearly in direct patient care. A growing portion of that care – more than 15 percent – is uncompensated care.

Uncompensated care is part of our public responsibility and our state-mandated mission to provide care for North Carolinians. As health-care costs have grown, so has hospitals’ responsibility to offer care to patients who need it, regardless of their ability to pay.

The UNC Health Care System was created to serve North Carolina’s health care needs. Today, we employ more than 12,000 people and treat patients from all 100 counties. Our work through the Area Health Education Centers helps bring care to rural and underserved areas, and our partnerships with other providers increase access to care for patients all across our state.

Over the past four years, UNC’s uncompensated care has grown by approximately 14 percent each year. The UNC Health Care System, including Rex, provides more than $300 million in uncompensated care – more than any other health system in the state. At Rex, inpatient Medicaid and uninsured cases have doubled in recent years.

What started 60 years ago as one hospital and a medical school is now an integrated and collaborative health system of physicians, hospitals, nurses, researchers, teachers and students. UNC Health Care is recognized as a national a leader in teaching, research and state-of-the-art care, but our most important work is offering excellent care to all our patients.

Care Regardless of Ability to Pay

In recent months, the UNC Health Care System, including Rex Healthcare, has received criticism about the amount uncompensated care we provide in Wake County. (Uncompensated care is the cost of care for which we are not paid). We are proud of our commitment to treat every patient who enters our doors, regardless of their ability to pay – so we’d like to address this criticism head on.

UNC Health Care System providers delivered more than $300 million in uncompensated care last year. Much of that care was delivered to patients in Wake County. We don’t just deliver care to Wake County patients at UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill, Rex Healthcare in Raleigh, or our affiliated physician practice groups throughout the Triangle. The UNC School of Medicine also employs more than 30 faculty members and 55 residents who practice full time at WakeMed.

Those UNC School of Medicine residents and faculty provide much of the uncompensated care that is delivered at WakeMed – particularly in OB/GYN. By our calculations, the value we provide to WakeMed well exceeds $20 million annually.

The UNC Health Care System provides uncompensated care to patients from across the state. Our most recent data shows that our care is almost double what is provided by WakeMed. We are proud of our role as the state’s health system and will continue to provide our excellent standard of care to any North Carolinian who needs our services, regardless of their ability to pay.

Comparing Uncompensated Care

The UNC Health Care System, and Rex Healthcare in particular, have been unfairly criticized about the amount of uncompensated care we provide in Wake County. (Uncompensated care is the cost of care for which we are not paid).

Specifically, WakeMed CEO Bill Atkinson has said that WakeMed provides more than its fair share of the uncompensated care in Wake County and that Rex Healthcare needs to provide more. This is false.

Rex Healthcare is a community hospital, integrated into the UNC Health Care System. Similarly, WakeMed Cary is a community hospital affiliated with the WakeMed system. That’s why it makes more sense to compare apples to apples – and parent hospital to parent hospital and affiliated community hospital to affiliated community hospital.

We know that the UNC Health Care System provides significantly more uncompensated care than WakeMed’s system – $309 million to $162.4 million, respectively in fiscal year 2010. And we know that Rex Healthcare provided $85.2 million in fiscal year 2010. But we don’t know how much uncompensated care is broken down within the WakeMed system. Since fiscal year 2008, WakeMed has elected not to submit data for WakeMed Cary to the North Carolina Hospital Association for charity or community benefits – instead rolling up WakeMed Cary’s data into the larger WakeMed total.

While WakeMed’s lack of transparency keeps us from comparing dollar amounts spent on charity care, we can look at some of the patient data. According to state licensure records, WakeMed Cary has fewer uncompensated patients than Rex. Approximately 10 percent of Rex’s outpatient visits are uncompensated, while only 3 percent of WakeMed Cary’s outpatient visits are uncompensated. On any given day in the emergency department, Rex sees an average of 50 percent more uncompensated care patients than WakeMed Cary. Even after factoring in size, WakeMed Cary sees fewer uncompensated care patients than Rex does.

Given the opportunity, we’d welcome the chance to conduct a more comprehensive comparison of uncompensated care at WakeMed Cary and Rex Healthcare, or of UNC Hospitals to WakeMed. All entities affiliated with UNC Health Care will continue to provide our standard excellent care to all patients who walk through our doors, regardless of their ability to pay.