More Floridians are without health care coverage and it’s showing up in the state hospitals’ emergency rooms, according to a report released last week by the Florida Hospital Association. The trend increased the amount of unpaid medical bills hospitals wrote off in 2006 by 73 percent, when compared to 2000.

Florida Hospitals treated nearly 1.7 million uninsured patients in 2006, the last year for which complete data was available. And they spent 11.4 percent more than in 2005 to treat the uninsured, according to the report “Databrief: Uninsured and the Impact on Florida’s Hospitals.” Overall, the hospitals provided nearly $2.4 billion in uncompensated care in 2006.

“The data clearly shows that the uninsured challenges in Florida have reached a crisis in our state,” FHA’s president Wayne NeSmith said in a press release. “Due to the increasing number of uninsured, hospital uncompensated care costs have grown 73 percent since 2000.”

The FHA said that by 2006, 25 percent of non-elderly people seeking care in the state had no insurance. And of the nearly 1.7 million treated in hospital emergency rooms, more than 150,000 were admitted for additional treatment.

Although a large number of uninsured patients live with someone who works, the FHA said the state’s economy is contributing to the crisis. Many of Florida’s major industries, including construction, retail services, hotel/restaurants and tourism are less likely to offer medical insurance, it said. And in challenging economic times, other employers are no longer offering coverage or requiring employees to pay more towards premiums, co-pays and deductibles. 

According to the report, a recent study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation found that the average family premium increased 29 percent between 2001 and 2005. However, the median income of those enrolled in a family policy increased less than two percent. 
“Cost of health insurance is one of the primary reasons Floridians go without health care coverage,” the report said.