Hospitals in State Feel Some Pains : Patient Totals Fall Despite Slowdown in Cost Escalation

Associated Press

Californians are using hospitals less, just when the cost of hospitalization has started to slow, the state's hospital association said.

The group also said that membership in health care groups has increased and that small hospitals are finding it tough to survive.

Privately insured patients paid an average of $850 a day for hospital care in the third quarter of 1984, California Hospital Assn. spokesman Ted Fourkas said.

The cost was up $69 a day from the same period in 1983, representing a rise of 9%, substantially lower than the double-digit percentage increases of the last few years, he said.

22% Rise Then

By comparison, a day in the hospital in 1982 cost $689, up more than 22% over 1981, Fourkas said.

The association's report on state health trends noted the decline in the number of patients and the closure of smaller hospitals.

Smaller Hospitals Close

Since 1974, 60 short-term community hospitals in the state have closed their doors, most of them smaller institutions, the report said.

Hospital admissions in California in 1983 declined for the second straight year. About 3.1 million patients entered hospitals in 1983, down about 50,000 from the 1982 total.

Cites Reasons

Fourkas cited several reasons for the decline, including major changes in state and federal health care rules that make it harder to qualify for Medi-Cal and Medicare benefits. He also mentioned high medical costs and the tendency for Californians to rely on out-of-hospital services.

"We assumed when the decline first began that it was due to the economic recession," he said.

"Before a recession, people tend to have more elective surgeries, and then when the recession hits they use hospitals less. But when the recession went away, the decreased utilization of hospitals did not."

He said further tightening of Medi-Cal and Medicare regulations will make it even harder for hospitals.

Worst Not Over

"The hospitals know that California is not through the worst of it yet," he said. "Everyone has been warning them."

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