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Changes in charity care ‘more generous’

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If you are a single person making $23,000 a year and you need health care, Jefferson Healthcare has a new policy that allows it to write off 100 percent of your bill. A single person making $47,520 a year could have their health care bill reduced by 50 percent under a revised charity care scale.

It is the second time in the past five years that the hospital has adjusted its sliding fee scale to be more generous.

“We have greatly simplified the adjustment ranges and are proud to have one of the most generous plans in the state,” said Hilary Whittington, chief administrative officer and chief financial officer of Jefferson Healthcare.

She said the plan was the result of Erin Coffey of the Jefferson Healthcare team bringing the new scale to the hospital’s Patient Financial Experience Task Force, which included patients, commissioners, health care employees and hospital commissioners. The team wanted to encourage more people to work with financial counselors, decrease the number of patients sent to collections as well as decrease the number of patients who do not seek health care because of financial reasons.

There are a few caveats to the policy Jefferson Healthcare commissioners approved in December, which was made retroactive to September.

“This is a policy, but people do need to apply for it,” Whittington said of patients needing to talk with the health care system and financial counselors when they are in financial need.

And the charity care policy doesn’t apply to co-payments. Co-payments still must be paid per agreements with health insurance companies. “That, we can’t get around,” she said of agreements between patients and insurance companies, which the health care system must follow by law.

Between September and November, there were 41 refunds given related to the revised sliding fee scale,totalling $5,843.73, Whittington said.

‘GENEROUS’

The new charity care policy is in keeping with the health care system’s long-standing practice of having one of the most progressive charity care policies in the state.

“We don’t have the most generous,” Whittington acknowledged, adding that some larger trauma hospitals, including Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, receive grant and state funding to be at the top of the list in charity care generosity.

The state Department of Health keeps track of how much patient revenue hospitals take in and how much charity care the facilities provide in comparison – the percentage of charity care compared to the amount of revenue is considered the amount of generosity.

For example, in 2015, the latest year with numbers available from the state Department of Health, Jefferson Healthcare reported $165 million in total patient revenue, which included $92.8 million in Medicare revenue and $30 million in Medicaid revenue for a total adjusted patient revenue of $41.6 million. That year, the hospital provided $1,007,943 in charity care, which represented roughly 2.4 percent of the adjusted patient revenue.

That same year, neighboring Olympic Medical Center, in Port Angeles, provided $1,303,000 in charity care, which represented 1.73 percent of its adjusted patient service revenue; Whidbey General Hospital provided $851,462 in charity care for less than 1 percent of its patient service revenue; and Harrison Medical Center in Bremerton provided $7,669,635 in charity care, which amounted to 1.57 percent of its revenue.

MORE PEOPLE

Jefferson Healthcare’s revised charity care policy offers financial benefits for people with higher incomes and higher benefits for people with lower incomes, Whittington said.

“Someone who was previously getting 80 percent of their bill written off, will now have 100 percent written off,” Whittington explained.

Whittington also said that write-offs for charity care have dropped significantly over the years as more people in Jefferson County have qualified for Medicaid through the expansion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

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