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Aug 6, 2013 8:24 PM by Samantha Ptashkin

Tucson hospitals hope tax hike covers cost of uninsured

TUCSON- Tucson hospitals are getting hit hard by patients who can't pay their bills.

"In 2012 we saw an increase in cost of delivering care to uninsured patients of over $134 million for hospitals across Tucson," says Alan Strauss, CFO of Carondelet Health Network.

But now there is a possible solution to alleviate the financial pain. "It's kind of a win-win for everybody," Strauss says.

Eight Tucson hospitals, including Carondelet Health Network, which operates St. Mary's and St. Joseph's Hospitals, are actually asking the city to tax them.

The idea may sound crazy, but the money raised through the tax would be matched two-for-one from a federal Medicaid fund. The hospitals would then use that money to take care of the costs for the uninsured.

Tucson hospitals could see about $70 million. Carondelet could see about $19 million of that total. "The costs are being incurred on a day to day basis," Strauss says. "It's not a matter of not providing the care, but any dollar that you can receive to support programs of the needy is helpful."

If the city council doesn't approve the tax, hospitals will have to look at ways to cut costs.

But Ward Six Councilmember Steve Kozachik says that doesn't need to happen, especially since the plan doesn't cost the city or taxpayers a dime. "We're going to be preserving jobs at the hospital," Kozachik says. "We'll be helping the hospitals from the standpoint of economic development."

AHCCS and federal Medicaid officials will also have to approve the tax. But they already did up in Phoenix and Kozachik says he's not worried about Tucson. "We're following the same model that Phoenix did, so we're pretty confident because they were approved," Kozachik says.

If the tax passes, it will expire on December 31. That would get hospitals through the end of the year when key parts of the new healthcare law take effect and more patients are expected to be covered.

The other hospitals hoping to pass the "Access to Care" tax include: Tucson Medical Center, The University of Arizona Health Network, HealthSouth Rehabilitation Institute of Tucson, Cornerstone Hospital and Kindred Hospital of Tucson.

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