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Charity Write-off On the Rise

September 4, 2015

South Central Kansas Medical Center is on pace to set a new record for providing free or discounted medical services. Through August the medical center has absorbed $303,765 from patient accounts through the hospital’s Healthcare Financial Assistance Program (HFAP), more commonly known as charity care.

Arkansas City, KS – South Central Kansas Medical Center is on pace to set a new record for providing free or discounted medical services. Through August the medical center has absorbed $303,765 from patient accounts through the hospital’s Healthcare Financial Assistance Program (HFAP), more commonly known as charity care.

The SCKMC Board of Trustees voted during their August meeting to approve HFAP write-offs for two patients covering 20 separate accounts for a total of $47,183.29. The accounts came before the Board with a recommendation for approval by the hospital’s HFAP committee. 

“We worked really hard over the last 12-months to refine (the HFAP) process as we brought on a new financial counselor to make sure that we are doing everything within our control to get the patient some type of financial assistance,” said Holly Harper, SCKMC’s Chief Financial Officer and chairperson of the HFAP committee.

Michele Cruz is SCKMC’s Financial Counselor. She works daily with patients near or below poverty level in an attempt to provide a reduction to their medical bills.

“When a patient comes to me I ask them what’s going on financially. We look at the two past years tax returns. Using that and how many people are in the home is what we have to base (HFAP) off of. If there is something significant going on right now, even though they may not qualify, I still bring those forward as special circumstances,” Cruz said.

With a downturn in the economy and increased costs for health coverage, charity care has been on the rise nationally for several years. The same can be said locally as SCKMC provided $288,434 of charity care in 2013, and $298,953 in 2014.

One of the main reasons for the increase in charity care is that more patients who have some form of insurance, but find themselves underinsured.  The most common forms of underinsurance are high deductible plans. These plans typically have lower monthly premiums, but require the patient to be responsible for a much higher deductible.

“A lot of what I am seeing is the underinsured, over 50 percent. Some of the people we work with have been paying $5 per month for years, and they are not getting anywhere. As they continue to seek healthcare, those accounts just keep adding up and the balances are getting higher,” Cruz said.

For other patients with no insurance coverage, the fear of debt may contribute to increased risk for significant health concerns. That is why part of the HFAP process requires the patient to apply for government coverage through Medicaid. If a patient does not qualify for Medicaid SCKMC staff will assist the patient with finding coverage through the healthcare marketplace.

“We don’t want people to not seek healthcare because they have no form of insurance. We are here as a community hospital, to serve those patients regardless of their ability to pay. They shouldn’t show up on our doorstep via ambulance as a last ditch effort because they didn’t seek healthcare before. (HFAP) enables patients the ability to seek healthcare even if they have no insurance or no income,” Harper said.

Cruz acknowledges that overcoming the negative associations that can come with asking for financial assistance is at times the most difficult hurdle to overcome.

“Most people don’t understand the process or how they can qualify for it. I have been yelled at for offering the charity care program to patients, but you have to turn it around in a positive way for them. It may not be completely written off, but there may be a percentage that we can possibly help you out with,” Cruz said. “I have had people come back into my office and cry and say ‘Thank you, you don’t know how much you’ve helped me and my family.’ We are helping the people that do need help paying those bills.”

Patients interested in learning more about SCKMC’s Healthcare Financial Assistance Program (HFAP) can call the hospital’s offsite billing office at (620) 441-5990 or Michele Cruz during normal office hours at (620) 441-5723.

(Pictured): Holly Harper (left), South Central Kansas Medical Center’s Chief Financial Officer, and Michele Cruz, the hospital’s financial counselor, work as part of the Healthcare Financial Assistance Program committee to provide billing discounts to low income patients.