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Some suggest JPS use surpluses to lower co-pays

Physicians at Tarrant County’s taxpayer-supported public hospital system are concerned that co-pays could be a barrier to patient care and asked the administration Thursday to study their impact on the poor.

Dr. Joane Baumer, chairwoman of the JPS Health Network family medicine department, suggested finding a way to reduce co-pays for patients, especially for return test visits or when patients need ongoing treatments.

“We need to know how this is affecting our ability to manage diseases,” said Baumer, a member of the JPS board’s quality committee.

Some other physicians suggested that JPS use some of its surpluses to either reduce co-pays, waive them entirely or find ways to group some payments together.

JPS’ annual surpluses have risen from $25 million in 2001 to $97 million last year, and JPS investments have swollen to nearly $400 million. Last fiscal year, it earned about $20 million on the investments, according to a federal report.

“With a large surplus, you’d like to make sure we are spending it wisely, and one of the ways to use it wisely might be to waive some co-pays,” said Dr. G. Sealy Massingill, president of the JPS medical staff.

Patients and physicians interviewed for a recent four-month investigation by the Star-Telegram said that co-pays, particularly those required of patients enrolled in the hospital district’s low-income program, Connection, often make healthcare prohibitive. JPS administrators say the co-pays are a way for patients to make responsible decisions about their use of the JPS services.

“We certainly all recognize that everyone has responsibilities,” Massingill said. “We are always trying to work with the administration to be sure we can deliver the care to the patients when they need and not after they need it.”

JPS’ chief medical officer, Dr. John “Jay” Haynes, said national studies show that co-pays are a barrier to access, even to patients with insurance.

“It is certainly worth our efforts to understand how the costs impact the quality,” he said. “That’s important for us to look at in improving our quality and trying to eliminate barriers to care.”