Take a bite out of hospital bills

Lois Maxwell, director of Patient Financial Services at Enloe Medical Center since March 2005, has worked in health care for 28 years.

Editor’s note: This piece was written in regard to a letter in the June 22 issue (”F.Y.I.") that proffered advice about discounts on out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Discounted health care—this is one answer for uninsured patients who are not eligible for other financial assistance with hospital bills. At Enloe, we offer substantial savings for this very group. Our discount program reduces a qualifying patient’s bill by 40 percent to 55 percent, depending on when payment is made.

To help patients take advantage of the savings, we advise them to meet established time frames for payment. For example, if the bill is paid before or at the time of service, we reduce the bill by 55 percent. There is a 50 percent discount when payment is made within 30 days, a 45 percent reduction when it is made within 60 days or a 40 percent discount if payment exceeds 60 days.

This program has been gratefully received by many of our patients. To get the word out, our registration sites have brochures, in English or Spanish, explaining the program, and staff gives the brochure to all uninsured patients upon registration. We also send letters to uninsured patients informing them about the discounts.

About one in five people in California is uninsured, and the government does not have a safety net in place for everyone. This is why Enloe and many other hospitals have discount programs. Enloe’s discount policy for the uninsured is just one way we reach out to help people pay for their health-care services. (For example, we have financial counselors who help patients understand their options for payment and apply for assistance programs.)

Often Enloe pays for the cost of care out of its own pocket. During the 2004-05 fiscal year, Enloe absorbed close to $5 million in costs from people who, for one reason or another, did not pay for their service. In that same year, it also cost the hospital more than $30 million to care for about 104,500 Medicare and Medi-Cal recipients whose costs from services were not fully funded by the government.

Because Enloe does write off bills for patients who truly cannot pay, it is even more important to be paid when possible. This allows the hospital to continue providing care for all who need it.

Steep discounts provided to government payers and private insurance companies have created serious financial challenges for hospitals throughout the nation. Often their reimbursements are not enough to offset hospitals’ losses in providing free care to the uninsured. So, it makes sense for hospitals to help make care more affordable for those unable to pay full charges. At Enloe, we are taking the steps to make this happen.

For information about these discounts or any other programs available to help pay for your hospital care at Enloe, call Patient Financial Services at 332-6300.