Rising tide: U-M Health System's service to community tops $429M, grows by 19% in one year

Amount of care provided for free or at reduced cost rose 85 percent in 5 years

May 08, 2014, 07:00 ET from University of Michigan Health System

ANN ARBOR, Mich., May 8, 2014 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The University of Michigan Health System provided more than $429 million worth of community services in fiscal year 2012 – 60 percent of it in the form of covering patients' unpaid medical costs, according to new Michigan Health & Hospital Association data released today.

The amount of free or reduced-price care provided by the U-M Hospitals & Health Centers rose 85 percent from 2007 to 2012 -- reflecting the U-M Health System's status as a safety net provider for residents of every county of Michigan and beyond.

In all, MHA data show that UMHS provided 13 percent of all unreimbursed and uncompensated care reported by Michigan hospitals in 2012.

Eighteen percent of that, or $46 million, was charity care and unpaid patient bills, together known as uncompensated care. The rest, called unreimbursed care, represents the difference between the cost of caring for patients with Medicare, Medicaid and other public programs, and the amount U-M received for their care.

On top of that, UMHS also absorbed $28.1 million in the cost of uncompensated care provided by the 1,700 doctors in the U-M Medical School's Faculty Group Practice.

ACA's impact still to be determined

The new MHA report provides data from the period before Michiganders could get health insurance through private Affordable Care Act plans and the state's Healthy Michigan Plan.

The uncompensated care figures show the importance of those new coverage options, which will ensure that many more individuals and families have coverage for the care they need most, when they need it. Eventually, increased coverage should also reduce the burden of uncompensated care costs on hospitals across the state.

However, the effect will not happen overnight, as enrollment in the plans continues to grow and hospitals work to handle pent-up demand for care among the previously uninsured. UMHS staff have fielded thousands of calls for assistance in enrolling in the new plans in recent months.

In addition to $257.6 million in unreimbursed and uncompensated care, UMHS provided $172 million worth of hospital-funded community benefits and community health improvement services in 2012. These ranged from health classes and screenings to support for training new doctors and medical research. The total amount of UMHS community benefit activity has risen 19 percent in just one year, and nearly 58 percent in five years.

For instance, more than 1,600 young patients received free care in the seven school-based clinics that UMHS operates for the Regional Alliance for Healthy Schools. Clinic staff also handled nearly 2,000 requests from the students' families for non-health assistance, from clothing and food assistance to utilities and housing costs. UMHS partners with the Michigan Department of Community Health, the Michigan Department of Education, the Washtenaw County Public Health Department and other providers to fund the clinics.

UMHS also runs the Ann Arbor Meals on Wheels service for homebound individuals, preparing food in the hospital kitchens. Last year, with the help of dedicated volunteers, the program served 134,262 meals to seniors and others.

"While the ACA's effects will take years to play out, these numbers truly show the need for approaches that increase coverage and serve social as well as medical needs," says Doug Strong, chief executive officer of the University of Michigan Hospitals and Health Centers. "We have also invested our own funds in research and medical education to offset declines from federal and state sources, because we believe in their importance for the future of health care in Michigan and the nation."

For those who aren't eligible for an affordable ACA private plan or Healthy Michigan Plan, UMHS will continue to offer discounts and assistance to community members in enrolling in other support programs. Information on applying for the M-Support program is at www.uofmhealth.org/financial-assistance.

UMHS is a major participant in the Washtenaw Health Initiative, a voluntary, county-wide collaboration focused on how to improve access to coordinated care for the low-income, uninsured, and Medicaid populations – including those who are now eligible for coverage under ACA and Healthy Michigan plans. UMHS also supports the Washtenaw Health Plan and is a major driver of the Washtenaw Community Health Organization, which serves clients with severe mental health conditions and developmental disabilities.

Giving back through community service:

Beyond the care provided at U-M's own medical facilities, UMHS physicians, nurses, medical students, residents and other clinicians donate their time to provide free health care services at various safety net sites including the Corner Health Clinic, Robert J. Delonis Center, Hope Clinic, Packard Community Clinic, and Migrant Health Clinics.

The Hope@UMHS effort has allowed hundreds of Hope Clinic patients to receive specialty care at special volunteer-run clinics held at UMHS facilities. U-M medical students and faculty run a Student Run Free Clinic in the rural town of Pinckney. 

UMHS also sponsors the Housing Bureau for Seniors, which helps thousands of adults over age 55 maintain affordable housing and prevent foreclosure, and a broad range of classes, lectures and community health screenings and events. For public event listings, see http://umhealth.me/publicev.

The MHA report on hospitals' community benefit in 2012 is available at http://www.mha.org/mha/index.htm

For help from UMHS in enrolling in an ACA plan or Healthy Michigan Plan, call (877) 326-9155 between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Monday-Friday or visit www.uofmhealth.org/newoptions

SOURCE University of Michigan Health System