Dane County patient dumping case unloads costs on consumers

The Wisconsin Hospital Association expressed disappointment with the Wisconsin Supreme Court’s decision yesterday that allows Dane County and other counties to impose yet another hidden tax on health care consumers.

Dane County is being permitted to walk away from a significant medical bill incurred when the County sought medical care from Meriter Hospital for one of the County’s prisoners. The individual had acquired a severe bacterial infection, septic shock, and multiple organ system failure while in the custody of the County. The unpaid cost of $175,000 will have to be recouped from the private sector.

“By walking away from its medical bills and its obligation to treat its prisoners, the County is knowingly forcing the hospital to shift these unpaid costs to others,“ according to WHA Senior Vice President Eric Borgerding. “It is a game, and employers and employees in Dane County who are struggling with health insurance costs will be the losers--it’s essentially a hidden tax.”

Dane County brought a gravely ill prisoner to Meriter Hospital for treatment. Because the prisoner was in a coma and consequently was not a flight risk, the County concluded that it could save the overtime payments needed for guarding the prisoner by seeking the release of the prisoner. The prisoner was released from County custody after three days of the eventual 34-day hospital stay. The prisoner was rearrested after he was released from the hospital.

The prisoner’s hospital bill exceeded $187,000, of which Dane County was ordered to pay $12,000.

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