California hospitals footing more bills

The emergency room at UC Davis Medical Center is bustling, its waiting room more crowded than ever and its doctors and nurses caring for an increasing stream of patients who can't possibly pay for services.

These days, more patients are arriving without jobs or health insurance.

Asa result, the university medical center is forced to absorb the financial burden of caring for many of the capital's medically indigent, uninsured and financially strapped - a burden that eventually is passed on to paying customers.

"We saw it coming, but the train was bigger than we thought," said William McGowan, the chief financial officer for the UC Davis Health System.

"We didn't think the recession would be this long or this deep."

From July 1, 2008, to June 30, the university health system was left footing the bill for $165.7 million in charity services - up from $96.9 million the year before.

Bad debts climbed to $54.9 million for the just-completed fiscal year, up from $38.3 million the previous year.

Across California, hospitals have seen a surge in the amount of care they provide for free - known in the health care industry as charity care.

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