South Carolina’s Medicaid agency introduced a new website this week that is meant to take the first step towards helping patients navigate the complicated world of expensive medical care and hospital financial health.
The Department of Health and Human Services website schealthdata.org launched Monday. DHHS director Tony Keck said it allows the public see financial data of South Carolina’s 60 hospitals, including revenue, profit/loss, and Medicaid payments for uninsured patients.
The website comes as healthcare costs steadily increase across the nation, while at the same time hospitals are being reimbursed less for treating Medicaid patients. South Carolina lawmakers voted to decrease how much providers are reimbursed in 2011. Meanwhile, Keck said the new healthcare law provides incentives for hospitals to create larger networks. Rural hospitals in many parts of the state are struggling to make a profit.
“One of our biggest concerns is making sure that our hospital sector is healthy,” he said. “This lets us take a look at trends in hospital financial performance to make sure that our reimbursement policies are actually contributing to hospital health and not hurting hospitals.”
The data on the site includes five years’ worth of profitability for hospitals statewide, along with what they received from Medicaid for treating uninsured patients (known as Disproportionate Share Hospital payments). A person visiting the site can search for hospitals by name or find them on a map. The website enables a user to compare up to four hospitals at a time from a list.
It will also show bed occupancy rates which, Keck said, is an indicator of a hospital’s financial health. A hospital with more beds filled likely gets insurance or Medicaid money for those patients, he said. Eventually, he hopes later phases of the website will include information about how much a hospital charges a patient for certain surgeries and operations who are uninsured, insured with Medicaid, and with different private insurance plans. He hopes that will allow patients to “shop around” some operations.
While a majority of hospitals reported a profit in 2012 (although the number is much lower if investments and other non-patient services are factored out), the website’s map shows 16 did not. Most of those hospitals are located in rural areas of the state.
Keck said those hospitals often struggle to compete with the medical networks of larger, urban facilities. Many rural residents also drive past their local community medical center to get outpatient surgery performed at larger facilities, he said.
“We’ve really kept an eye on that, because we know those hospitals are very important for their communities,” he said. “But their role is changing and we need to be able to pay them for their newly-changing roles.”