Cash-strapped Florida health group stops dialysis for poor patients

The Miami HeraldJanuary 7, 2010 

The financially strapped Jackson Health System has stopped paying for dialysis treatments for 175 poor patients with failing kidneys — a decision that experts say could be deadly.

"It is no game," says Emelina Garcia Cordovi, 67, whose treatments at a South Miami-Dade center were cut off Dec. 31. "We are talking of the lives of persons who depend exclusively on their dialysis."

Jackson, Miami-Dade's government health system intended to be a safety net for the poor and uninsured, said it expects to save $4.2 million by stopping payments for outpatient dialysis treatment for the 175 patients. Of those, other avenues for care have been found for all but 41, says spokesman Robert Alonso. About a third of those are undocumented immigrants, who are not eligible for government programs.

"This decision was not taken lightly," said Eneida Roldan, chief executive of Jackson, which is trying to reduce a projected loss of $168 million for fiscal 2010. She said patients can still get treated in the emergency room.

The situation is so serious that Brian Keeley, chief executive of Baptist Health South Florida, suggested Wednesday that, if Jackson cannot handle the patients, a "public-private partnership" of hospitals be formed to provide care. Jackson officials said they would welcome anything that helped solve the problem.

"These people are going to seek treatment," Keeley said. "They're going to migrate to the nearest emergency room," after they become sick, meaning care will be more expensive. Such a scenario is "very very inappropriate" when they could be kept well at outpatient dialysis centers, he said.

Under the health care reform proposals now before Congress, the emphasis is on getting cheaper basic care for an additional 30 million Americans so that they don't need expensive ER visits.

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