Sparrow has been unable to work since 2001. Diagnosed with a tumor
two years ago, frequent headaches and poor peripheral vision have
kept the Charlottesville resident from returning to her job in the
fast food industry.
a lack of medical insurance has not prevented Sparrow from receiving
vital medical care.
radiation treatments and occasional MRIs have been paid for by the
University of Virginia’s Indigent Care Program. The program
helps cover the cost of needed medical treatment for seriously ill
Virginia residents who are uninsured and unable to pay for care
on their own.
saves me a lot, I can tell you that,” said Sparrow. “It's
a good thing when someone doesn't have the insurance.”
2002, U.Va. treated 27,000 indigent patients from every district
in Virginia, including 1,000 from Northern Virginia, said Larry
Fitzgerald, chief financial officer of the U.Va. Health
that year, the Health System incurred a cost of $53.7 million to
treat indigent patients and received $42.6 million from state and
federal governments to partially cover the cost. The Health System
paid the remaining $11.1 million.
people refer to the program as free care,” said Fitzgerald.
“Free care doesn't exist because someone has to pay for it.”
care has been part of the “fiber and mission” of the
U.Va. Medical Center since the early 1980s —or as long as
most employees can remember, he said.
“We operate under the premise that the Health System has a
legal obligation to treat all patients, even if they can't pay,”
and the Virginia Commonwealth University Medical Center, the two
largest teaching hospitals in the state, together provide nearly
half — 49 percent — of all the indigent medical care
utilized in Virginia. Private hospitals across the state usually
refer uninsured patients who need expensive, medically necessary
treatment to the “safety net facilities” at U.Va. and
VCU, Fitzgerald said.
addition to treating patients at the Medical Center in Charlottesville,
U.Va.’s Health System offers a number of programs to reach
out to patients in other parts of the state. These include the Office
of Telemedicine, which in recent years has offered medical consultations
to nearly 6,000 Virginians via video connections to outlying medical
offices. The technology also offers applications in home health
care and interactive distance learning via videoconference.
outreach activities include the Remote Area Medical Volunteer Corps’
annual health care events. Last July, the volunteer corps, which
includes many U.Va. medical faculty members, offered free clinical
care — physicals, visions tests and dental exams —to
nearly 5,000 medically underserved patients in southwestern Virginia.
Charlottesville, both inpatients and outpatients with the right
qualifications can reap the benefits of the University’s Indigent
Care Program, said Brent McGhee, administrative manager of patient
financial services. A financial screening evaluates a patient's
annual income, number of dependents and assets, such as cars and
patients are considered indigent when their household income meets
or exceeds the federal poverty guidelines by up to 200 percent.
In addition to meeting the income qualification, a patient's assets
cannot exceed a given threshold. A patient who qualifies as indigent
receives a write-off on medical bills, ranging between 30 and 100
percent. The level of the write-off is set according to a sliding
scale tied to income in the state university teaching hospital guidelines.
program also can resolve medical bills accrued months before the
indigency qualification was granted, McGhee said. Patients and their
families typically qualify for a period of one year, at which point
financial advisors reevaluate their qualifications.
the University’s Indigent Care Program covers acute illnesses,
such as appendicitis, it does not pay for elective procedures, such
as cosmetic surgery — a tummy tuck or a nose job, Medical
Center officials said.
patients are very happy to have professionals treat them for medically
necessary care, and we are happy to offer them the same care that
we would give them if they were the wealthiest in Virginia,”
financial forecast for the program, however, is cloudy. Within the
next two years, a statewide shortfall of $28 million is expected,
according to a study commissioned last year by Virginia Gov. Mark
Warner. If not resolved, inadequate funding will threaten Virginia’s
future ability to provide medical services and equipment to the
state’s most financially vulnerable patients.