California Catholic Daily, July 23, 2008
Two Catholic hospitals join program to give “free” medical care to city’s 73,000 uninsured
Three private hospitals in San Francisco – two of them Catholic – this month agreed to participate in the city’s ambitious plan to provide health care, free of charge or for a small fee, to all its uninsured inhabitants.
The hospitals – California Pacific Medical Center, St. Francis on Nob Hill, and St. Mary’s on the eastern edge of Golden Gate Park (the latter two owned by Catholic Healthcare West) said they would participate in the program because it was the morally correct thing to do.
The city’s plan, “Healthy San Francisco,” began last year and is expected to cost $200 million a year when it is fully operational – that is, when it provides healthcare to all the estimated 73,000 uninsured in the city. Thus far, admission to the program is being done on gradual basis; but, in the end, any city resident, regardless of income, who has been uninsured for 90 days, will be eligible.
The cost for the program is expected to be borne by a state grant, employer contributions, and fees charged to participants on a sliding scale. About 25,000 people have enrolled in the program and, until now, have been treated at the city’s 27 community clinics for primary care and at San Francisco General Hospital for inpatient services.
The entrance of the non-profit hospitals into the system will ease some of the burden on the community clinics. The participating hospitals have agreed to treat patients under the program, who will pay from nothing up to $250 for hospital admission. None of the fees will go to the hospitals – they will go back into the city universal healthcare fund – but the hospitals will receive large tax breaks from the city.
Hospitals already receive tax breaks for charity care, and earlier this year, several hospitals in San Francisco were criticized for receiving more in tax breaks ($79 million) than they gave in charity care ($16 million). Among them was California Pacific Medical Center, which has agreed to take on 6,000 patients who would normally go to a clinic for primary care services. St. Francis will take in 540 Healthy San Francisco patients from a local clinic, while St. Mary’s will take in patients from another clinic.
John Graham, director of health care studies at the free-market San Francisco think tank, Pacific Research Institute, told the San Francisco Chronicle, “Hospitals do not treat people for free. What this looks like is that they are trying to keep Gavin Newsom and the San Francisco (Board of Supervisors) happy by giving them some political support.”
But Dr. Mitchell Katz, director of the city’s Department of Public Health, said that what the non-profits are doing makes sense in the long run, since, by law, they are required to treat uninsured patients who come to their emergency rooms. “Ultimately, if everyone who’s uninsured is part of Healthy San Francisco, then there is no group of unaffiliated, uninsured people anymore walking into emergency rooms,” he told the Chronicle.
Lloyd Dean, president and CEO of Catholic Healthcare West, told the Chronicle that his hospitals’ participation in the city program “will certainly contribute” to their share of charity care in the city.