Monday, January 28, 2013

North Dakota oil boom boosts economy, busts hospitals as migrant, uninsured workers don't pay

"The furious pace of oil exploration that had made North Dakota one of the healthiest economies in the country has had the opposite effect on the region's health care providers," John Eligon of The New York Times reports. The large number of uninsured workers coming to the state are causing local hospitals to "sink under skyrocketing debt, a flood of gruesome injuries and bloated business costs from the inflated economy." (NYT photo by Matthew Staver: North Dakota oil-region doctor sees patient)

Ambulance calls in the state's oil-and-gas region increased about 59 percent from 2006 to 2011, North Dakota Health Department emergency medical director Thomas Nehring told Eligon. The number of traumatic injuries increased by 200 percent from 2007 through the first half of 2012, and the total amount of unpaid bills at the 12 hospitals in western North Dakota has risen by 46 percent during fiscal years 2011 and 2012, state Rural Health Association President Darrold Bertsch said. Expenses at those hospitals rose by 15 percent, nine had operating losses, and Bertsch told Eligon that this trend is simply unsustainable.

Many new patients are migrant workers from across the country without health insurance or a permanent local address. One of the biggest factors that increases bad debts is patients giving incorrect contact information, so when the time comes to collect, they can't be found, Eligon reports. McKenzie County Hospital CEO Daniel Kelly said his hospital's patient debts rose more than 2,000 percent over the past four years. He has lobbied the state legislature to allocate a portion of the money for the oil-and-gas region to be spent specifically on health-care facilities in the area. Gov. Jack Dalrymple has made proposals to increase the state's number of health professionals, and he's increased Medicaid funding for rural hospitals. (Read more)

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