New Jersey Hospitals Face Crisis as Economy Worsens, More Uninsured Patients Seek Care
New Jersey "faces a nasty culmination of health care crises" amid a falling economy, which likely will lead to an increase in the number of uninsured residents and place a greater burden on hospitals in the state, the Washington Post reports. According to the Post, six hospitals in New Jersey have closed in the past 18 months and half of those remaining are operating at a loss. Some state officials say there were too many hospitals and the closings were needed to make the system more "rational and efficient," according to the Post. However, many of the closings have been in urban areas with large minority and low-income populations.
According to the New Jersey Hospital Association, 77 hospitals provided $1.3 billion in charity care and received $716 million in state reimbursements for the care. Over the last 15 years, hospitals have absorbed $6 billion in losses related to charity care. Gov. Jon Corzine (D) on June 30 signed a $32.9 billion fiscal year 2009 state budget that includes $605 million for charity care, a decrease of $111 million from last year.
The Web site for Muhlenberg Regional Medical Center -- a Plainfield, N.J., hospital profiled by the Post and scheduled to be shuttered later this year -- states, "The health care system in New Jersey is clearly broken," and "hospitals that serve a high percentage of poor and uninsured cannot survive under these pressures."
Some health care professionals say that the recent increase in ambulatory care centers in the state has led many insured patients to seek care outside of hospitals. A "wave" of undocumented immigrants "is another problem" because by law, they cannot apply for charity care, but hospitals are required by law to treat them, the Post reports. According to the Post, "[A]lmost everyone agrees that a key underlying problem is the lack of universal health insurance" (Richburg, Washington Post, 7/7).