State Sen. LaTonya Johnson
Op Ed

Congress Must Protect the DSH Program

Program created by President Reagan provides funds to hospitals to offset costs for providing care to the uninsured.

By - Aug 7th, 2019 11:25 am


Healthcare is too expensive. Way too expensive for far too many families. That is one of the reasons Governor Tony Evers and legislative Democrats fought so hard to expand BadgerCare in the recent State Budget, and introduced stand-alone legislation to do so this week. Unfortunately, our Republican colleagues still don’t seem to grasp that expanding access to health insurance coverage and bringing our federal tax dollars back into our own health care system benefits everyone – rich or poor, healthy or sick.

Democrats in Wisconsin will never stop fighting to accept the BadgerCare expansion. But right now, there’s another debate underway that can help make health care in our state more affordable – the debate over how hospitals get reimbursed for what is known as ‘uncompensated care’.

Accidents happen, everyone gets sick at some point. And when that happens, you need care whether you have health insurance or not. Sadly, those without insurance typically put off seeing a doctor or addressing an injury until it becomes an emergency that requires a trip to the hospital. Emergency room care is among the most expensive, least efficient forms of healthcare available, which is why our representatives in Washington have sought to support hospitals that see a large number of these patients.

That’s the Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program in a nutshell. It provides critical funding to offset costs for uncompensated care. Right now, that funding that hospitals rely on is at risk if Congress doesn’t act.

This is a program created by Republican President Ronald Reagan to lessen the impact on hospitals for seeing patients not covered by their own insurance, Medicare, or Medicaid. If that funding goes away, it makes it more likely that hospitals will have to raise costs for those who do have health insurance.

Maintaining this funding for hospitals has long been a point of bipartisan agreement. Every year since 2013 Congress has voted overwhelmingly to protect the DSH program. But time is running out this year; if Congress does not act soon, $7 billion in cuts to the DSH program will go into effect on October 1, 2019.

Right here in Wisconsin, DSH cuts would have an enormous impact on hospitals serving lower income community members. Wisconsin’s current annual DSH allotment is $187.7 million which 112 hospitals – including Aurora Health Care Metro, and Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin – rely on to keep their doors open and provide quality care to low-income patients. If Congress fails to delay cuts soon, Wisconsin hospitals stand to lose $12 million in funding the first year and double that amount the following year.

That is just not sustainable for these safety-net hospitals. Without cutting services there is no option other than to raise rates. That would hit lower-income Wisconsinites who depend on their local hospitals hardest and inevitably raise costs, which is why Health care leaders, advocacy groups, and industry experts support the DSH program and are urging Congress to take action to protect the program.

There is no place for politics in this debate. DSH funding is an issue both parties have long agreed on and should continue to. October will be here before we know it. Which is why Congress must not delay, and protect this vital program for Wisconsin hospitals and patients immediately.

LaTonya Johnson, D-Milwaukee, is a member of the Wisconsin state senate.

Categories: Health, Op-Ed, Politics

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