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Caring for the New Uninsured: Hospital Charity Care for Older People Without Coverage

Date of Publication
December, 2006
Publication Type
Journal Article
Focus Area
Paid Access
DOI Entry
Citation (AMA)

Despite near-universal coverage through Medicare, a number of elderly residents in the United States do not have health insurance coverage. To the author's knowledge, this study is the first to document trends in the use of hospital charity care by uninsured older people. Data from the New Jersey Charity Care Program, which subsidizes hospitals for services provided to low-income uninsured people, were used to analyze trends in charity care utilization by older people from 1999 to 2004. Charity care charges are standardized to uniform Medicaid reimbursement rates and inflation adjusted using the Medical Care Consumer Price Index. From 1999 to 2004, use of charity care by older people grew much faster than it did for younger patients. As a result, older people now account for a greater share of hospital charity care in New Jersey than children. Elderly users of charity care generated higher costs per patient than their younger counterparts. Cost differences were especially salient at the upper end of the distribution, where high-cost elderly patients used significantly more resources than high-cost patients in other age groups. These results highlight an emerging source of strain on the healthcare safety net and point to a growing population of uninsured residents who have costly and complex medical needs. Similar experiences are likely to be found in other states, especially those that have growing populations of elderly immigrants who are likely to lack health insurance.