Full implementation of the federal health law could reduce the amount of uncompensated care at Minnesota’s hospitals by $134 million to $168 million, according to a new analysis by the state Department of Health.
The estimates look out to 2016, when elements of the Affordable Care Act are fully operational, including health insurance exchanges that could help more than 1 million individuals, families and small businesses shop for coverage.
Other elements of the law, including the requirement that individuals carry insurance, could reduce by 60 percent the number of Minnesotans without insurance.
But achieving that partly depends on questions now facing lawmakers — whether to take advantage of federal subsidies to expand Medicaid and include more moderate incomes; and continuing a form of MinnesotaCare, which currently provides some premium help to workers who make too much to qualify for Medicaid.
The report said the projected decreases in uncompensated care — which arises when patients can’t or don’t pay for medical treatments — likely is a “conservative, low estimate.”
The amount of money hospitals absorb each year in uncompensated care has grown nearly 2½ times in the past decade, the report said. It said uncompensated care in 2011 amounted to about $308 million. Nearly half of that was for care that hospitals provide for free or at a discount to low-income Minnesotans; the rest was bad debt from patients.
But the analysis highlighted an impact of the trend toward high-deductible plans and increasingly expensive insurance options for those who don’t get coverage at work. It found that nearly 44 percent of uncompensated care came from patients who had insurance.
Without the Affordable Care Act, the researchers project that uncompensated care could be expected to grow to between $318 million and $411 million in 2016.