The Jersey City Medical Center on Grand Street is slated to take the biggest hit of all the state's hospitals, with a reduction in Charity Care from $83.5 million to $41.6 million.
In Hoboken, Hoboken University Medical Center (formerly St. Mary Hospital) is facing a $4 million cut in Charity Care aid.
As far as Jersey City's other remaining hospital, Christ Hospital on Palisade Avenue, that facility would see a $650,000 reduction as the proposed budget currently stands.
Charity care is money that helps hospitals cover the cost for patients who aren't able to pay their bills. Some do not receive Medicare because they are earning slightly over the income cutoff, but still are uninsured and can't afford medical care.
Unlike private physicians' offices, hospitals in New Jersey are required to treat anyone who comes through their doors and needs their care.
LibertyHealth Systems (operators of the Jersey City Medical Center) spokesperson John McKeegan said last week that 60 percent of the Medical Center's patients are dependent on either Medicaid (a federal health program for individuals and families with low incomes and resources) or Charity Care. McKeegan said that JCMC is reimbursed only for about 50 cents on the dollar for Charity Care aid.
The budget that Gov. Jon Corzine is proposing calls for a $143 million cut from the state's funding for Charity Care to hospitals across the state.
However, the budget numbers are not finalized. The governor and state legislators are continuing to work on the budget until June 30, when the state's current fiscal year ends, attempting to restore some of the money cut. The new fiscal year starts on July 1, 2008 of this year and ends June 30, 2009.
Hoping to restore numbers
State Assemblywoman Joan Quigley (D-Hudson) is part of an effort by state legislators to restore much of the money from proposed cuts to provide for hospitals that serve as major trauma centers in the state, such as Jersey City Medical Center.
By the end of last week, legislators were close to a deal with Corzine to restore $60 million of the $143 million that is earmarked to be slashed before the budget gets passed.
"As the economy gets worse, there are fewer people with health insurance, and that's why Charity Care is so vital," Quigley said.
Why we need the charity
Joseph Scott, president and CEO of LibertyHealth (a company that also operates Meadowlands Hospital in Secaucus) said a decrease in charity care of the magnitude being suggested by the state would be devastating to JCMC and its patients.
"If this cut goes through, we wouldn't be able to treat a lot of people, and other hospitals in the area cannot pick that up," Scott said. "That's because we would have to cut back on employees and possibly medical services that we offer."
Scott said LibertyHealth is communicating with state legislators to retain most, if not all, of the funding they received last year since JCMC is one of two "essential" hospitals in the state. This is based on the amount of patient visits they handle every year (in 2007, 64,000 emergency room visits and 16,000 in-patient admissions), and based on the services they offer.
His pleas are also based on the large number of low-income and uninsured people that come for treatment.
How to cut costs
Scott said LibertyHealth is waiting until July 1 to make any moves to save money.
In the meantime, LibertyHealth is working on such revenue-increasing initiatives as bringing in more paying patients to the hospital by creating relationships with various area physicians.
"It takes a period of time, about three to five years to secure patients but we are already starting our recruiting of physicians," Scott said.
Besides a lack of reimbursements, area hospitals also have suffered from competition with private facilities that perform services such as MRIs.
A state of dire need
Joan Quigley knows more about the desperate need of hospitals when it comes to charity care than just any state legislator, because she works full-time for a hospital.
With about 30 years of experience in hospital administration, Quigley is the spokesperson for Hoboken University Medical Center (formerly St. Mary Hospital).
Quigley said the Charity Care issue is fighting for monetary attention alongside such entities as funding for schools and aid to municipalities.
"I hope for at least 50 percent to be restored to the proposed cuts in Charity Care - but I would really like 100 percent," Quigley said.
Quigley also said the state passed legislation in December known as the Charity Care Fraud Prevention and Detection Act to check on Charity Care eligibility and recover money related to fraudulent claims that could help save the state money spent on reimbusements to hospitals.
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