I-Team: New audit: UMC not getting enough money from patients
By Nathan Baca, Investigative Reporter - bio | email
LAS VEGAS -- Las Vegas' taxpayer-supported hospital is giving people expensive non-emergency care and letting patients walk out the door without paying.
That is just one of many revelations showing up in a Clark County audit of University Medical Center.
If all this sounds familiar, it is because the I-Team tracked down the same problems in 2012.
According to Clark County auditors, not much has changed since the I-Team last looked inside.
UMC is the community's safety-net hospital, giving care to those who can't afford it, but auditors say UMC is not just giving charity to those who need it, it is giving away nearly everything for free, and you pay for it.
Medical care is expensive and when people with no insurance go to UMC, taxpayers foot the bill
Larry Barnard is the new CEO of University Medical Center.
"Being the safety-net hospital there were a group of people who didn't have any insurance at all. So, people looked at it almost as a risk analysis. If the surgery wasn't done, would that result in it potentially being worse?" Barnard said.
But Clark County Commissioners want to know if UMC is at least trying to collect bills from patients who can afford it.
In 2012, more than 7,000 uninsured patients ended up in UMC's emergency rooms multiple times. Those patients racked up a bill of $19 million; however, the hospital collected just $17,000.
That is two-tenths of one percent of what the hospital was owed.
In 2012, the I-Team asked UMC's then leader what the hospital was going to do to improve spending taxpayer dollars.
"What is lacking in UMC, and a lot of hospitals like us, is really a mechanism where you really assess, what point is enough care, enough care?" former UMC CEO Brian Branman said in 2012.
But when Clark County auditors went to UMC a year later for a follow-up, they found little to no change. Auditors took a sample of 376 non-emergency uninsured patients last year.
They found almost no improvement in billing the second time around. Only two percent of those non-emergency patients paid their bills, many times, they were not even asked.
The pharmacy was worse. With none of 173 sampled patients paying for their drugs, even though many of them were less than $30.
"Is it worth denying the $3 a bottle pill with the intent that they come back to the emergency department looking for the same pills, on the easiest side? Or the worst case scenario, two months from now they come in and because they haven't taken pills," Barnard said.
When UMC did collect money from patients, auditors found there were issues with the cash registers. Too many employees had access to them, with little security or oversight.
UMC says those problems are now fixed. Nevada Policy Research Institute's Geoffrey Lawrence reviewed the same reports.
"This is really poignant because UMC continually runs deficits. They go to the county commission and say, ‘We need county's taxpayer dollars to cover all these costs because we're not even asking our own patients to pay their own bills.’" Lawrence said.
UMC’s new CEO says patients newly insured through the Affordable Care Act and new policies at UMC will give the public hospital a better billing percentage, the third time the I-Team highlights an annual audit.
"I'm in a position where we have to talk about this. This is a public thing, this is not just something that happens and disappears. As a steward of the taxpayer's money, I need to be able to sit down and find these opportunities and get them fixed," Barnard said.