Rating Coachella Valley Hospitals: What Consumers Should Know

The Big Picture — Our Nation’s Health Care System is Broken

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Hospitals represent a large sector of our national economy. In California alone, they employ more than 400,000 workers and spend more than $57 billion annually on goods and services — including $30 billion on employee compensation.

Although it is reported that the United States spends more on health care (16% of the Gross Domestic Product) than any other nation, results of a recent survey by the National Health Interview Survey disclose that from January through June 2008, 42.8 million persons in the United States were uninsured.

It is the heavy burden of providing health care for the uninsured and underinsured that is being blamed for much of the crisis in today’s health care industry. When the uninsured become ill, a 1986 federal law, entitled the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA), entitles them to emergency services regardless of their ability to pay.

According to the American College of Emergency Physicians, it is EMTALA that is costing hospitals and physicians billions of dollars in bad debt or “uncompensated care” each year — adding to the already overburdened, overwhelmed, and under-funded medical emergency systems nationwide.

Emergency Rooms In Need of Urgent Care

This severe loss of revenue is quickly causing emergency room providers across the country to seek urgent care for their own institutions. In a June 14, 2006 report entitled, The Future of Emergency Care, the Institute of Medicine reported that visits to emergency rooms between 1993 and 2003 increased from 90.3 million to 113.9 million, yet during this same period 425 emergency rooms in hospitals across the country were shut down, causing severe overcrowding, dangerously long waits, and patients being parked on gurneys in hallways awaiting beds.

The situation in California is no less critical. In a March 2, 2007 article appearing in the online version of The San Diego Union-Tribune, Chris Van Gorder reports that in the decade between March of 1997 and March 2007, more than 65 emergency rooms and 70 acute-care hospitals closed their doors in the state of California, leaving remaining hospitals, medical personnel, and resources stretched beyond capacity.

California Cannot Risk More Hospital Closures

California cannot risk even one more hospital closure or reduction of services. That’s the warning in a new California Hospital Association Report on California Hospitals and the Economy, which ranks California 49th nationally in hospital bed availability with only 1.9 hospital beds per 1,000 population. The report also reveals that there is a 73 percent increase in consumers having difficulty paying out-of-pocket health care costs, and a 33 percent increase in emergency room (ER) visits for uninsured patients.

Hospitals have always depended on revenues from elective procedures to help them improve their bottom line, however, with the rapid growth in unemployment, more Californians are finding themselves without job-based insurance -- creating a 30 percent decline in the number of elective procedures and hospital profits.

As if the state of the faltering national economy is not bad enough, California hospitals and residents continue to be placed at risk of hospital and department closures because of inadequate Medicare and Medi-Cal reimbursements to providers. Medicare reportedly reimburses California hospitals at $3.5 billion below the cost of providing care, and recent Medi-Cal funding has fallen short of covering costs for California hospitals by more than $3.7 billion.

Eisenhower Medical Center Terminates Medi-Cal Contract

The Coachella Valley is not exempt from the current crisis in our medical system. In September of 2008, Lora Hines reported in The Press-Enterprise that Eisenhower Medical Center in Rancho Mirage had become the first Inland hospital to terminate its contract to care for some Medi-Cal patients. Michael Landes, president of Eisenhower’s foundation, stated in the article that the decision was based on the fact that Eisenhower was losing about $3.5 million a year. Although some services will still be available, the decision will reportedly apply to Medi-Cal patients who do not need emergency room care and are not in health maintenance organizations (HMOs).

For those who may not be aware, Eisenhower Medical Center is classified as a “not-for-profit” hospital, because it depends on patient revenues and private charitable donations for its operations. Eisenhower has gained an institutional-type celebrity status since its opening in 1971, because of its long history and involvement with celebrity contributors such as Bob and Dolores Hope, Frank Sinatra, Gene Autry, and Lucille Ball – just to name a few. Later, with the development of the Betty Ford Center for alcohol and drug rehabilitation and the Barbara Sinatra Children’s Center, Eisenhower Medical Center went on to gain international recognition.

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