By Steve Hansen
QCS Managing Editor
The cost of hospital care for the uninsured poor in Quay County is likely to be half again more expensive than it was last year, according to county officials.
The county reported spending more than $307,100 on indigent care from July to November.
County Manager Richard Primrose said the county is on a path that could result in about $750,000 in indigent care spending by the end of the fiscal year, compared with about $500,000 for the previous year.
While the spending is higher, he said, there are some extra funds in another hospital account that are offsetting the increase.
The reason for increased costs, Primrose said, is not that more people are being treated with indigent care dollars, but that those who are using it are “maxing it out” more often.
Each person who uses indigent care funds for treatment, he explained, is allowed up to $5,000 for treatment and more such patients are using the full amount, raising the total spending on indigent care.
Lance Labine, administrator of the Dr. Dan C. Trigg Hospital, the county’s provider of health care services to the poor, said the cost increase “doesn’t surprise me with the way things are going.”
More people are using the emergency room for treatment, he said, and when the hospital consults patients about billing, he said, the hospital tells patients who may qualify about indigent care funding through the county.
Quay County residents, he said are a “tough bunch.”
“They wait until they’re really sick” before they seek treatment, he said.
Primrose said funding for health care to the indigent comes from several sources, including property tax and gross receipts tax funding. About three-sixteenths, or about 0.19, of a percentage point of the 1.31 percent gross receipts tax rate that applies to Quay County applies to health care for the indigent, Primrose said. These funds are independent of the 0.63 of a percentage point of gross receipts tax that county voters have approved to pay for hospital operations, Primrose said.
Tax funds to operate the hospital are matched by $3 in federal money for every $1 in local funds under the federal Sole Community Provider program operated by the federal Health and Human Services Department, Primrose said, and since sole provider fund programs have been under-used, some of that money is now being applied to offset the indigent care overruns.