Riverside County's public hospital officials grappling with state and federal funding cuts are dealing with an additional dilemma: a doubling in the number of poor, uninsured residents qualified to receive discounted treatment at taxpayer expense.
The number of residents qualifying for the county's medically indigent services program has more than doubled during the last four years. Nearly 16,650 residents had qualified for the program by the end of June, up from a little more than 8,100 people who had qualified in June 2006, according to records at Riverside County Regional Medical Center in Moreno Valley.
Hospital CEO Doug Bagley said the eligibility increase is another sign of the Inland area's troubled economy and its effects on residents, who have lost jobs and health insurance. People earning less than 200% of federal poverty level qualify for the program. So, an adult in a family of three or four earning less than $44,100 yearly could be eligible.
"There is more need than ever as all of these cuts are occurring," Bagley said, adding that he will not reduce services.
In Riverside and San Bernardino counties, the June unemployment rate was 13.7 percent, the highest since the state began documenting localized records in the 1970s.
Despite San Bernardino County's high unemployment rate, the number of people qualified for the medically indigent program has shown little change at Arrowhead Regional Medical Center in Colton. The number has slightly increased since last year.
Although San Bernardino County's increase is not as dramatic, both county hospitals spend tens of millions of dollars every year on the medically indigent. Patrick Petre, Arrowhead Regional Medical Center's CEO, said he pays $2.5 million to the county's private hospitals to take care of medically indigent patients.