Privatization fallout questioned

Community hospitals in areas with LSU hospital privatization deals are seeing increasing numbers of uninsured patients, putting strains on their finances, state senators complained Monday.

“Those nonpartnership hospitals in those communities are clearly getting slammed,” state Sen. Sherri Buffington, R-Keithville, said.

State Sen. Ronnie Johns, R-Sulphur, said patients are going to the emergency rooms of two hospitals in the Lake Charles area that are not part of any partnership arrangement with the state now that the public W.O. Moss Regional Medical Center has closed.

“Those hospitals are not being compensated one penny for those coming in,” Johns said.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, said the same thing is happening in Baton Rouge where Our Lady of the Lake Regional Medical Center is now LSU’s partner.

The senators sought answers from LSU System Vice President Frank Opelka about the developments since LSU turned the responsibility of “safety net” care of the uninsured to private hospital partners. Because of the “safety net” responsibility, the LSU partners, unlike other community hospitals, are being reimbursed 100 percent of uninsured care costs.

The questions came as the Senate Finance Committee continued receiving overviews of various aspects of the Jindal administration’s proposed $25 billion budget.

Opelka said a rebalancing of where people seek health care is going on.

Partner hospitals are seeing “an uptick in access,” said Opelka. “Other non-partners are talking about an uptick almost as if there is pent-up demand.”

Opelka said LSU is working with the state health agency to understand what’s going on.

“We are not sure where all that demand is coming from,” he said.

Claitor wondered what specifically was going on in Baton Rouge to provide additional access to care.

Opelka said the urgent care center near the site of LSU’s now-closed Earl K. Long Medical Center in north Baton Rouge is open 24 hours a day and patient volumes keep increasing. The Lake has had a higher urgent-care patient volume than the former Baton Rouge charity hospital called the Earl, prior to its closing.

Yet local hospitals closest to the Earl have complained about increased use of emergency rooms by the uninsured and lack of reimbursement. Both Baton Rouge General Medical Center-Mid-City and Lane Regional Medical Center in Zachary have been affected.

Buffington ask for a report on emergency room usage prior to and since the public-private partnerships in the various communities impacted.

“What I hear from those hospitals and community physicians being called in, they have seen a dramatic increase,” Buffington said. “Who are those patients? Are they the same patients going from one hospital to another or are they different patients?”

“I feel like we are asking these hospitals to hold their breathe and hope they don’t drown,” Buffington said.