Each spring in New Jersey, the governor and Legislature create the following year’s budget in which they must reconcile the needs of New Jersey’s residents and businesses with the economic realities of the state. Simultaneously, various interest groups attempt to stake their claim on a piece of the funds.
February’s snow has hardly melted and we are already seeing these interests pounce. There is a claim going around that New Jersey will lose nearly a quarter of its federal funding for hospitals to care for uninsured patients if the state distributes its charity care dollars to all of New Jersey’s hospitals rather than exclusively to “safety net” hospitals.
Writing as executive director of the Fair Share Hospitals Collaborative (FSHC), a network of 28 hospitals, let me be clear: there is nothing — no law, no executive order, no existing or proposed federal regulation — that supports this claim.
New Jersey hospitals are required by law to provide high-quality healthcare to all New Jersey residents, no matter their ability to pay. We take pride in the care that we deliver to these patients, as it is part of our essential mission of caring for our local communities. In return, the State of New Jersey reimburses hospitals for a portion of the care they provide to these uninsured individuals. It is a moral, effective, and prudent approach.
Over the years, however, the amount the state reimburses hospitals for this charity care has steadily and substantially declined as New Jersey Medicaid has expanded to cover more people. Today, some hospitals receive a mere two cents in reimbursement for every dollar they spend caring for New Jersey’s most in need. And in this year’s budget, the total pool of available dollars is set to be reduced by another $150 million.
Fortunately, the Department of Health recently released its proposed distribution of funds and it recognized that the safety net for the people of New Jersey is much broader than a few select hospitals. It recommended that the distribution of funds be made more fairly, and we applaud them for that.
Charity care and Medicaid patients are not limited to select geographies. They live in all of New Jersey’s 21 counties and receive care at each of New Jersey’s hospitals. The 28 hospitals in the Fair Share Hospitals Collaborative alone have provided approximately 720,000 inpatient admissions and outpatient services for persons who qualified for charity care in 2014. The reality is that every New Jersey hospital is part of our state’s strong healthcare safety net.
We at FSHC understand the special needs of those hospitals that see high numbers of uninsured patients, and it is why we strongly support preferential funding. But to completely exclude the rest of New Jersey’s hospitals is to abuse the social safety net.
Every New Jersey hospital receives and treats patients regardless of their ability to pay, and we are all part of the safety net. No matter how the negotiations turn out in Trenton, we must preserve the safety net and support funding charity care for all of New Jersey’s hospitals.