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HOSPITAL CARE TO COST PATIENTS MORE

HOSPITAL CARE TO COST PATIENTS MORE

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Hospital patients in the Triad should brace themselves to pay more.

High Point Regional Hospital will charge an additional $15 a day in room rates and 7.5 percent overall charges, effective Monday.And while Moses Cone Memorial Hospital in Greensboro will buck the statewide trend toward higher room rates, patients will pay 8.5 percent more in overall charges for medicine, tests and specialized care.

The trustees of Wesley Long Community and L. Richardson Memorial hospitals in Greensboro are expected to announce their new rates later this week.

N.C. Baptist and Forsyth Memorial hospitals in Winston-Salem already have raised room rates and overall charges.

``Room rate increase is pretty much the rule of thumb,' said Barbara Barnett, a spokeswoman for the N.C. Hospital Association.

Before Cone's announcement late Tuesday afternoon, she said, no hospital in the state had avoided a room rate increase.

Cone will continue to charge $175 a day for semiprivate rooms and $190 a day for private rooms.

At High Point Regional, the room-rate increase to $210 from $195 a day reflects shortfalls in federal Medicare reimbursements, said Bob Duncan, hospital vice president for finance. All of the hospital's rooms are private.

Statewide, Barnett said, increases have ranged from 5.8 percent at a Hendersonville hospital to 18 percent at Cape Fear Valley Medical Center in Fayetteville. The new rates, though, generally are more moderate than last fall's double-digit increases.

Because of Medicare shortfalls, almost 30 cents of every dollar charged to privately insured patients for hospital care pays for someone else's hospital bill, according to the N.C. Hospital Association. Hospital officials say the federal government's unwillingness to fairly reimburse hospitals that treat the elderly and disabled is putting increased financial strain on other patients through cost-shifting.To make up for money lost on Medicare patients, hospitals increase charges to privately insured patients. In effect, they pass along an increasing amount of unpaid bills to other patients.

Nearly half of the patients who stay overnight at High Point Regional are elderly or disabled and rely on Medicare. Although the proportion of patients has not changed, the amount the federal government reimburses is expected to decrease by 2.6 percent. For every $1 billed to Medicare, the hospital receives 65 cents in payment.

Moses Cone faces a similar load with 46 percent of its patients relying on Medicare, said Doug Copeland, the hospital's vice president of marketing. The lack of funding for indigent care burdens hospitals throughout in the county, Copeland said.

Increased salaries for highly skilled employees also puts hospitals in a pinch, Barnett said.

"If you're adding hardware, furniture or textile equipment," she said, 'you expect to decrease the number of people you need to operate it. But in hospitals, it's just the opposite. Each piece of technology creates the need for more popple with the skill to operate it."

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