Only 2% of acute care hospitals nationwide are safety-net facilities, but they provide 20% of uncompensated care to the uninsured. Because most are in low-income communities, they typically generate scant revenue from privately insured patients. The Medicaid Disproportionate Share Hospital (DSH) program was established to help defray their costs for uncompensated care.
Currently, Medicaid DSH disburses $11.5 billion annually to the states, which have considerable latitude in allocating these funds. Some states carefully target their DSH payments to hospitals providing large volumes of uncompensated care, but others, such as Ohio and Georgia, spread their payments broadly, transforming the program into a de facto subsidy of their hospital industry.
Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was expected to dramatically expand insurance coverage, safety-net hospitals were expected to need less DSH money. Therefore, to reduce the cost of expanding Medicaid, the ACA reduced Medicaid DSH funding by $18.1 billion between fiscal years 2014 and 2020. To allow time for coverage expansion to take effect, the cuts are back-loaded — starting at $500 million (4% of current national DSH spending) in 2014 but reaching $5.6 billion (49% of current spending) in 2019.
The DSH cuts are so deep in part because Congress assumed that all...
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