CHARLESTON, W.Va. - It's better than nothing.
That's the view some local health care providers are taking of Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin's announced expansion of Medicaid, expected to bring an additional 91,500 West Virginians into the federal insurance program beginning next year.
Hospital officials say Medicaid's reimbursements are notoriously low, only 20 cents on the dollar in some cases.
But that is still better than what most uninsured patients currently pay: nothing.
Tomblin made his Medicaid announcement Thursday morning at a press conference at St. Francis Hospital in downtown Charleston.
He said expanding the program "is the best choice for West Virginia" and, while there are costs associated with the expansion, the state would bring in $1.3 billion of federal dollars during the first three years of the program.
Under the expansion, the state also expects the number of uninsured West Virginians to drop from 246,000 to 76,000 by 2016.
Steve Dexter, president and CEO of Thomas Health System, which covers St. Francis and Thomas Memorial Hospital in South Charleston, said Medicaid traditionally has not paid hospitals enough to recoup costs.
While private insurance companies pay St. Francis about 20 cents above cost, Medicaid only pays the hospital about 20 cents on the dollar.
But Dexter said increasing the number of people on Medicaid could help the hospital's bottom line in the future.
Uninsured patients pay, on average, about five cents on the dollar. Hospitals are required by law to treat patients, regardless of their ability to pay their bills. Dexter said some patients try to pay the hospitals back, but most don't pay anything at all.
Dexter said those patients also are among the most expensive to treat, because they often don't arrive at the hospital until they are chronically ill.
"We've had patients come in that had stage four breast cancer," Dexter said. "You catch that at stage one, and maybe it's a minor surgery."