NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


March 27, 2006

The percentage of physicians who provide charity care to uninsured patients is decreasing, while the number of uninsured is increasing, according to a study released by the Center for Studying Health System Change.

For the study, researchers surveyed 6,600 doctors. They found:

  • Some 68 percent reported delivering some no-cost or discounted care to low-income patients in 2004-2005, compared with 76 percent of doctors in 1996.
  • The number of uninsured U.S. residents increased from 40 million in 2000 to 45.5 million in 2004.

While the percentage of doctors providing charity care decreased in all specialties, surgeons reported the highest rate of charity care among all specialties, with 78.8 percent providing no-cost or discounted care. Surgeons might provide the most charity care because many work in emergency rooms, which often treat the uninsured. According to the researchers, about 60 percent of pediatricians provided charity care -- the lowest rate among the specialties.

The researchers also found that doctors in solo or smaller practices were more likely to provide charity care:

  • About 81 percent of doctors in solo or two-person practices provide some charity care, compared with 66 percent of doctors in practices with 11 to 50 physicians and 62 percent of doctors in practices with more than 50 physicians.
  • Additionally, the percentage of doctors in practices with 10 or fewer physicians providing charity care has not changed significantly since 1996.

According to the researchers, the number of physicians providing charity care has remained stable, though the overall number of practicing physicians has increased 14 percent since 1996. The researchers conclude that uninsured patients will have to rely on formal safety net providers such as free clinics, public health centers or public hospitals, while policy measures are needed to lower the number of uninsured U.S. residents.

Source: Emily Ann Brown, "Percentage of Physicians Giving Charity Care Falls," Wall Street Journal, March 23, 2006; based upon: Peter J. Cunningham and Jessica H. May, "A Growing Hole in the Safety Net: Physician Charity Care Declines Again," Center for Studying Health System Change, Tracking Report No. 13, March 2006.

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