Hospitals Take on the Burden of the Uninsured

By Camaron Abundes  
NewsWest 9

ODESSA- In Emergency Rooms across the United States dealing with the 45.8 million people who don't have insurance, according to the 2005 census, is costly. At Medical Center Hospital, Gwendolyn Colvin, Director of Utilization, Management and Transfer services says it costs hundreds of thousands of dollars each year. Colvin says while it is a problem it is manageable compared to what other hospitals across the U.S. face.

"It is a burden having these uninsured patients," she said about the cost. "It can be in the millions."
Colvin says while it is a burden they do receive some help from RCA, a private company designed to look for resources for patients and money from the Ector County Hospital Assistance Fund.

"Anyone that comes into the emergency room, we have to treat," Colvin said.

Colvin says 14 percent of the patients admitted to the ER can't pay, just one percent are undocumented immigrants but in four cases the hospital paid to send patients back to Mexico for long term and specialized care, following their initial treatment.

"We'll call the facility were they're from, and tell them about the case, and make arrangements to get them back over there," she said, "We're going to do it in a safe manor."

Colvin says it's a practice some hospitals are using and may happen here more often over the next years.

"It's less expensive for us to send them back than to keep them," she said.

Colvin says another trend in the ER, people with insurance who do not have a primary doctor. Colvin says people who do not have an emergency wait longer and end up with a more costly visit. Her advice; make an appointment with a doctor or if you don't have insurance go to a clinic.

"They can be seen quicker at a Clinic than waiting at an emergency room," she said.