SHERIDAN — Sheridan Memorial Hospital has seen a rise in uninsured patients seeking emergency care this year, according to the hospital’s Chief Financial Officer Nathan Stutte.
In the last four months, the hospital has seen 260 more uninsured patients than it did during the same four-month window a year ago. Stutte said 1,100 uninsured patients have come through the hospital’s emergency department since the start of the summer, which is up from 840 patients during the same period last year — a nearly 40 percent increase.
Overall, Stutte said SMH has historically seen about 7.5 percent of patients seek treatment without insurance, but recently that number has climbed to almost 10 percent.
Stutte said, in general, the hospital is reimbursed 10 to 12 cents on the dollar when it treats an uninsured patient. That is much less than what the hospital would receive for treating a patient with Medicare, Stutte said, and does not come close to covering the cost of treatments.
“It has a significant impact to the hospital’s financial bottom line,” Stutte said. “And over the last year it’s been one of the primary drivers of the hospital’s financial results.”
Why the hospital is seeing this increase now is not entirely clear. Typically increases in uninsured patients coincide with economic downturns but in recent years the economies of both Wyoming and Sheridan County have been recovering and overall employment has increased.
Stutte pointed out that there is only one health-insurance provider in the state currently available through the federal health insurance marketplace, Wyoming Blue Cross Blue Shield, which could limit the availability of insurance.
On the federal level, the government has lifted some of the mandates in the Affordable Care Act that penalized people who did not carry insurance, which could also drive overall enrollment down.
“It’s been tough for us to kind of put our finger on,” Stutte admitted.
Stutte said he has spoken to other hospitals in the state, specifically in places like Natrona County, that are seeing similar increases in uninsured patients.
“They haven’t seen as significant a bump as we have, though,” Stutte said.
Eric Boley, the president of the Wyoming Hospital Association, said he has not heard reports of more uninsured patients from other hospitals in the state, but added he would have to pull more data before he could draw conclusions, which could take several days.
In order to decrease the number of uninsured patients, Stutte said the hospital will place a greater emphasis on connecting people to health-insurance resources, like insurance available through the Affordable Care Act or Medicaid, before they require emergency treatments.