Iowa’s hospitals provided more than 353-million dollars worth of “uncompensated care” last year — charity care or care written off as bad debt. The data came in a report issued today (Monday) by the Iowa Hospital Association. Kirk Norris, president and C-E-O of the Iowa Hospital Association, says hospital executives support the idea of raising the state cigarette tax to cover a shortfall in the state’s Medicaid budget which provides care for poor, disabled and poor elderly. “We definitely support an increase in the tobacco tax,” Norris says. The Hospital Association support a dollar a pack increase in the cigarette tax, and starting this week, the association is running advertisements calling for the tax increase. Eric Lothe, president and C-E-O of Skiff Medical Center in Newton, says cuts in state spending on Medicaid patients are forcing his hospital to make cuts. He says the Medicaid reimbursement shortfall is becoming a significant issue. Three years ago, the Newton hospital’s Medicaid shortfall was 48 percent; last year is was 53 percent. Newton’s hospital discontinued its short-stay assisted living unit and made substantial cut-backs in its extended home care program because the hospital couldn’t sustain the financial losses. Norris says federal changes made in 2003 have helped, a bit, in reducing the hospital deficits created by lower reimbursement rates for treating the elderly who’re on Medicare. In 2003, Iowa hospitals lost about 100 million dollars treating Medicare patients. Last year, there were still losses, but amounted to about 70 rather than 100 million. “It didn’t solve the problem, but it definitely did help in getting us headed in the right direction,” Norris says. There are one-hundred-16 hospitals in Iowa. The Iowa Hospital Association report shows those hospitals offered 64 million dollars worth of free or reduced-price services to their communities in 2004, things like nutritional couseling or letting heart patients use a hospital exercise gym.