The Healthcare Divide
It has been estimated that more than 70 million persons in the United States rely on Medicaid, but about 30 million are not insured at all. COVID-19 exposed the long-standing inequities in the healthcare system, and it turned a spotlight on safety-net hospitals. Even before the pandemic many of these safety-net hospitals were losing money and some were about to close. What’s interesting is that for-profit hospitals made huge profits during the pandemic.
In early 2021 LA county became the epicenter of the winter COVID surge. The hospitals that serve low-income working-class communities were receiving multiple cases per minute. These hospitals are largely government-funded and designated to care for the kind of people that other hospitals don’t want to care for: the poor and uninsured, the homeless, mentally ill, addicts, and those who work essential jobs.
In Chattanooga, Tennessee the situation is similar. Erlanger, a safety net hospital, usually doesn’t receive enough money from the government to cover the costs of procedures. In order to survive, they try to attract as many insured patients as possible and to attract profitable patients.
Erlanger launched an aggressive project to become a world-class facility and go after the market share. There were expansions, new campuses, and loans all with the intention of becoming profitable. This, however, did not solve the problem but created a greater divide because a large segment of the population that they were supposed to be caring for, was being ignored. There was a lot of growth but it did not translate into profit for Erlinger.
These are just two examples of large, public hospitals that are in trouble in the United States. While they sort out their financial challenges, communities suffer because of the disparity in the way patients are cared for.
The pandemic is subsiding, but the financial problems safety-net hospitals are facing aren’t going anywhere. Watch this thought-provoking documentary now.