A dispute over how University Hospital in Cincinnati dispenses prescriptions to poor people may renew the fight over whether the hospital has adequately served the poor since it became a private institution last year.
Hospital management now is requiring patients to meet with counselors and social workers instead of handing out free prescriptions. Advocates for the poor and at least one doctor say some patients who can't afford to pay or don't understand the new procedure are being denied prescriptions.
Hospital officials say the only people not getting medicine are those who refuse to work with financial counselors and social workers trying to help patients find alternative ways of paying.
City Councilman Todd Portune asked the city solicitor's office to investigate and determine whether the change affects the hospital's mission to provide indigent care. The hospital receives $30 million a year from a Hamilton County tax levy to provide care for the poor.
Wayne Bohenek, the hospital's pharmacy director, said the policy change was made because most people are eligible for some sort of alternative method of paying but don't know it.
The alternatives include Medicaid and the county's indigent healthcare levy. The hospital also receives free drugs from pharmaceutical companies.
"We've found a lot of these patients have insurance and never told us, or they qualified for Medicaid and haven't followed through on the paperwork. . . . It may take 30 minutes of their time, where in the past, they received prescriptions for free," Bohenek said.
Bob Donovan, M.D., medical director of the Health Care for the Homeless Program run by the Cincinnati Health Department, said he has noticed indigent patients going without medicine. He said it's because of the policy change.
Donovan said many of the homeless don't understand or are afraid to go through the process and many aren't eligible for any financial help.
The city, which built the hospital more than 170 years ago, sued in 1996 to challenge the University of Cincinnati's decision to convert the hospital from public to private. But a judge ruled the city gave up control of the hospital when it was turned over to the university in 1976.