Health Care

Charity care escalates at Via Christi in 2010

A tough economy helped to drive charity care higher at Via Christi Health in 2010, officials said Wednesday.

The nonprofit Catholic health system — the state's largest — said its community benefit totaled $82.8 million, up from $78.1 million in fiscal 2009.

The total is based on the community benefit it provided in the communities it operates in Kansas and northeast Oklahoma.

Community benefit includes unpaid costs of Medicaid services, traditional charity care and the training of doctors, nurses and other health care professionals.

Via Christi officials said community benefit does not include unpaid bills of unpaid costs of Medicare services. If it did, its community benefit would have topped $100 million.

Of its segments of community benefit, traditional charity care costs represented a large upswing — up by $8.8 million from 2009 — to $48.5 million. Traditional charity care consists of medical services Via Christi provides at a discount or for free.

Lynnette RauvolaBouta, senior vice president for mission integration at Via Christi Health, said the "impacts of the economy" resulted in higher costs of providing charity care.

She said Via Christi also has been working harder for the past three years at identifying patients who would qualify for discounted or free care. That could also be a factor in its rising charity costs.

RauvolaBouta said some patients might have been postponing treatment because of being uninsured or underinsured, only to have their conditions worsen to the point they needed hospitalization.

"That's our assumption," she said.

At this point, it's hard to predict what Via Christi's charity costs will be in 2011.

RauvolaBouta said she is seeing a slight increase in costs in 2011 but "in my view it's too early to tell.

"It's certainly something we are keeping our eyes on."