Posted March 11, 2011

Budget cuts would hit TU Hospital’s patients hard

Eight months ago, 46-year-old Fareed Tucker was told he needed to have his right leg amputated — immediately. The Delaware County resident sought a second opinion from Temple vascular surgeon Eric Choi. Today, Tucker has both of his legs and can walk without the aid of crutches. He’s grateful not only to Choi, but for the fact that the Commonwealth’s Medical Assistance (or Medicaid) program enabled him to get sophisticated limb-salvage surgery while reimbursing Temple for a portion of his total healthcare costs.

Gov. Tom Corbett’s proposed 2011-12 budget includes hospital funding cuts of $333 million. For the hospitals and ancillary provider facilities in the Temple University Health System, these cuts could approach $83 million — a setback that would jeopardize the level of clinical services and programs available to uninsured or underinsured patients like Tucker.

Temple University Health System’s flagship hospital, Temple University Hospital (TUH), serves the greatest volume and highest percentage of Medicaid patients in Pennsylvania. In recognition of its role as the Commonwealth’s leading safety-net hospital, TUH receives government funding that helps offset the cost of care provided for burn victims, obstetrics patients, infants in TUH’s Intensive Care Nursery and trauma patients.

The proposed cuts also would have a negative effect on TUH’s ability to sustain jobs for its employees, many of whom are Philadelphia residents.

Temple’s partial reliance on state support has been a catalyst for hospital-based initiatives and programs designed to increase quality-of-care while decreasing costs.

“Temple University Hospital has successfully reduced expenses and improved care by streamlining operational efficiencies and reducing or eliminating redundancies and variations that lead to waste,” said Sandra L. Gomberg, president and chief executive officer of TUH.

Despite TUH’s improvement efforts, no hospital that is the safety-net institution for Pennsylvania’s largest city — the largest city in the nation without a public hospital — can achieve financial stability without stable Commonwealth support for care provided to Medicaid patients.

“Unlike hospitals that have a large commercial payer mix, we are not able to offset low Medicaid reimbursements by shifting costs to the higher payments from private insurers,” said Gomberg, who noted that nearly 52 percent of the hospital’s inpatients depend on Medicaid coverage.

“We’re proud to serve some of the Commonwealth’s most vulnerable and underserved citizens, but we can’t do it alone,” she added. “That’s why we’re going to advocate vigorously for the continuation of levels of state support that will protect our patients’ access to quality healthcare, protect our tradition of providing progressive medical education and research and protect our position as one of the largest employers in Southeastern Pennsylvania.”

TUH leaders said they would continue to work with the Commonwealth on strategies and initiatives that would sustain access to care for patients.