McLeod in lead as S.C. hospital profits jump to $1.1 billion

South Carolina hospitals made a combined $1.1 billion profit last year - a 70 percent jump since 2011, according to data that the state's Department of Health and Human Services will publish online Wednesday.

While the agency, which offered The Post and Courier an early look at the numbers, says it posts hospital data periodically online to shed some light on an industry that has made its finances notoriously opaque, the South Carolina Hospital Association worries that the data may misrepresent how much money these facilities are really making. The association supports the effort to improve transparency, with reservations, its president said.

"A major concern is the agency's use of unaudited and incomplete financial data that tend to distort profit levels for hospitals throughout the state," said Hospital Association President Thorton Kirby, in a prepared statement.

Each hospital had an opportunity to double-check their own numbers, which were culled from cost reports filed with the federal government, the agency confirmed.

McLeod Regional Medical Center posted a higher profit than any other hospital for a second year in a row. The Florence hospital made $154 million during the 2013 fiscal year, about $5 million less than it made in 2012.

Meanwhile, Trident Medical Center held on to fourth place among 59 hospitals included on the list. The North Charleston hospital made nearly $80 million in 2013 - an $18 million jump from the previous fiscal year and the highest profit among all the Lowcountry hospitals.

Making this information public on a user-friendly website is more than just transparent - it's also partially political.

Conservative South Carolina leaders rejected an estimated $11 billion federal investment that would have expanded Medicaid eligibility to an additional 244,000 residents through 2020. South Carolina hospital executives, facing an estimated $2.6 billion in reimbursement cuts under the Affordable Care Act, believe this decision may be detrimental to their bottom line.

Health and Human Services Director Tony Keck, a member of Gov. Nikki Haley's Cabinet, said these new numbers don't support their argument.

"The reality is that financial statements which they provide to the federal government to drive a lot of their reimbursement tells us that hospitals have enjoyed another year of increased profitability," Keck said.

"We should be happy about that because, you know, we believe hospitals are anchors of the health care system, but we should also be realistic about what it means in terms of health care costs and arguments about how Medicaid expansion is necessary to make hospitals thrive," he said.

The new data also shows hospital occupancy rates, the percentage of Medicaid patients each facility admitted and total revenue.

Medical University Hospital had the highest occupancy rate in South Carolina in 2013 - its beds were full more than 81 percent of the year. But the busiest hospitals weren't the most profitable, and higher occupancy didn't always yield higher profits.

For example, Medical University Hospital made $28 million last year - about $10 million less than Patewood Memorial Hospital in Greenville, even though Patewood's beds were occupied by inpatients less than 9 percent of the year - the lowest occupancy rate among all hospitals in the state.

Seventeen hospitals on the list lost money during the 2013 fiscal year and most of them were located in rural communities. Two hospitals - Marlboro Park Hospital in Bennettsville and Carolinas Hospital System in Marion - each lost more than $10 million.

Wallace Thomson Hospital in Union, which lost nearly $9 million last year, recently declared bankruptcy.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.