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Denver hospital nears crisis after illegal immigrants, homeless, others racked up $136M in unpaid care in 2023 alone
Screenshot of FOX31 Denver YouTube video

Denver hospital nears crisis after illegal immigrants, homeless, others racked up $136M in unpaid care in 2023 alone

Denver Health, the largest "safety net" hospital in Colorado, is nearing a crisis after rising numbers of illegal immigrants and homeless people are racking up hefty health care bills that they have little or no ability to pay.

Since President Joe Biden took office and the southern border has been overrun with immigrants from all over the world, the cost of unpaid care at Denver Health has risen dramatically. In 2020, the hospital had about $60 million in unpaid care. By 2022, that number more than doubled to $125 million and then jumped another $11 million last year, bringing the total amount of unpaid care at Denver Health in 2023 to a whopping $136 million.

Those numbers coincide with the significant rise in illegal immigrants entering the city in the last few years. According to Dr. Steven Federico, the chief government and community affairs officer for Denver Health, the hospital treated 8,000 new patients from South and Central America in the last year, and those patients alone accounted for 20,000 hospital visits.

"It’s not surprising when they get to Denver that there’s severe and acute health care needs," Federico said.

Some of those "severe and acute health care needs" included dental emergencies, mental health counseling, and childbirth, Denver Health CEO Donna Lynne told the Denver City Council’s finance and government committee earlier this month. "While I have tremendous compassion for what’s going on, it’s heartbreaking, it’s going to break Denver Health," she explained.

The hospital has contacted FEMA for more federal assistance with the cost of caring for illegal immigrants.

Colorado likewise offers OmniSalud, a state-funded program that directs "undocumented Coloradans and DACA recipients" to individual health insurance plans that are often provided by an employer. "This plan is designed to improve access, affordability, and racial health equity for consumers purchasing health insurance in individual and small-group markets," the website says (emphasis not added).

While many are pointing to illegal immigrants as the main cause of the hospital's shortfall, other uninsured patients have contributed to the problem as well. Federico also mentioned the growing population of "unhoused" persons, who often need mental health care and/or addiction treatment.

Though $136 million sounds like an insurmountable deficit, Denver Health actually fell only $2 million short of breaking even in 2023. However, a $5 million donation from the state and additional $10 million from Kaiser Permanente — "one of the nation’s largest not-for-profit health plans," according to its website — helped defray the costs of unpaid care.

Such sizeable donations were likely a one-time deal, and even with the $30 million Denver Health receives from the city every year, hospital officials have scrambled to cut costs to keep it afloat going forward. Some of those cost-cutting measures included reducing raises for staff, delaying renovations to older areas of the facility, and closing 15 beds normally reserved for those needing psychiatric or addiction treatment.

"What I think is not being said is that Denver Health is at a critical, critical point, and that we need to take this up in 2024," Lynne pleaded with the city council committee. "Because our costs exceed our revenues, we are turning down patients every day, particularly in the area of mental health and substance abuse."

"There’s going to be a point where the numbers make this very, very hard," added Dr. Taylor McCormick, associate director of Pediatrics Emergency Medicine at Denver Health. "We’re already past the breaking point, to a certain extent."

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