ASHEVILLE – Patient advocate pressure on HCA Healthcare paid off on Nov. 17 when the company made a preview of its application for charitable health care financial assistance public online at Mission Health’s website.
Mission is perhaps the first of any HCA hospital system – there are more than 180 in its network in the US and UK — to make this document immediately available to patients online.
The application is a two-page form that eligible patients can use to request a medical bill waiver under HCA’s charitable care policy.
The move follows a partnership started in July with leaders of the WNC social media group Mountain Maladies and the medical debt solutions organization dollars for.
Mountain Maladies, a 13,500-member Facebook group founded and moderated by Western North Carolina resident Will Overfelt, requested that Mission Health and owner HCA make the application public so that local residents who wished to apply for charitable care can easily do so. could do.
Overfelt wanted to partner with Portland-based Dollar For, founded and led by Jared Walker, to leverage the organization’s free services to help patients “reduce medical debt.”
When Overfelt requested the application from Steve Gross in a Sept. 13 letter to Parallon — which provides billing services for HCA — Gross responded, but did not send the document.
Shortly thereafter, North Carolina state treasurer Dale Folwell wrote his own letter to Gross, repeating the Mountain Maladies and Dollar For question.
The Citizen Times also requested the application form and reported on the situation in an October 31 article. HCA and Mission Health spokesperson Nancy Lindell responded to Citizen Times inquiries but did not send a copy of the filing.
“As we consider the benefits of offering the application online, it is important to note that our financial support process begins the moment care begins and we encourage conversations with our financial advisors so that we can help each individual get the help find the one that is most helpful to their unique situation,” Lindell said on Oct. 27.
But on Nov. 17, Lindell emailed Overfelt with a link to the application, which is now live on Mission Health’s website.
“I understand you recently contacted Steve Gross and I wanted to provide my contact information,” Lindell said. “Feel free to contact me for any reason, I’m happy to do my best to help. Regarding your request to Steve, a sample of our application has been posted on our website.
The document was posted on www.missionhealth.org/financial-services/financial-support under a link titled “Click here to view a sample financial aid application.”
Before this document was posted online, patients who wanted to inquire about eligibility for charitable care had to request a sort of screening interview with a “patient care consultant.”
Having the application details to hand can simplify this process.
“It’s a small win, but a win nonetheless,” Overflet said of the filing’s placement. “Collaboration and compromise are possible, even if different parties have very different perspectives. We won’t know if this will have a tangible benefit to the citizens of WNC until we have a chance to help people seeking charitable care by applying on the form. But it’s a step toward transparency and making the charitable care process easier for WNC’s hard-working folks who are struggling with huge medical bills.”
Overfelt encouraged WNC residents who need help with the application for charitable care to contact HCA directly or Dollar For help by visiting DollarFor.Org/Asheville.
Dollar For can also help patients fill out applications for charitable care at other local hospitals such as AdventHealth or Pardee, he noted.
Folwell praised advocates like Overfelt and noted the work of Take Medicine Back, which hosted a forum in July with the treasurer and other patient advocates, including Walker.
“What I would say in the spirit of Tom Petty is that we are going to the gates of hell before we ever shy away from transparency, quality and access to healthcare in Western North Carolina,” Folwell told the Citizen Times Nov. 18 . “We’ve tried to change the law to bring the right amount of transparency to these issues.”
As previously reported by the Citizen Times, Folwell has been advocating for better charitable giving practices in the state while condemning “failures” in the system. His office reported in January that some North Carolina hospitals “billed $149.2 million to indigent patients who should have been eligible for free or discounted charitable care under the hospitals’ own policies in fiscal year 2019.”
More recently, his office released another report that found “vast discrepancies between the Medicare losses claimed by hospital administrators and the numbers hospitals reported to the federal government.”
On November 18, he said that “the credit for this small step goes to all of us who sing from the same book of hymns”.
HCA still thinks a phone call is better
The publication of this application on the Mission Health website may mark the first time the document is immediately available to the public by an HCA hospital system.
For example, on November 18, the application for financial aid had not been posted on HCA’s TriStar Health website. TriStar is a network of 17 hospitals in Tennessee and Kentucky. HCA is headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee.
The Citizen Times sent a series of questions to Lindell on November 17 regarding further publication of the application for financial aid.
- Is the Charitable Care Application posted online for the Mission Health Network the only application form posted by an HCA hospital? In other words, have other HCA hospitals or hospital networks posted the application? Is the application available on HCA’s main website and, if so, how recently was it posted there? If not, will HCA put it there and in other hospitals?
- What prompted Mission Health to put the application on its website?
- Has Mission Health recently seen a noticeable increase in applications for charitable care?
Lindell responded, but did not directly address some of these questions.
“We are always looking for ways to improve and a representative from our billing department received a request to post the charitable care application online,” she said. in.
“In our experience of helping patients over the years, speaking with a patient benefits advisor provides a more complete picture of a patient’s situation, enabling us to find solutions that help determine their eligibility for coverage that is often beyond extends beyond their current care experience. For example, in North Carolina last year, our advisors helped more than 13,900 patient accounts enroll in long-term coverage, such as Medicaid.
She added that the company is “proud of the more than $277 million” in funding it provided last year.
“We have not seen an increase in applications since the sample was recently posted.”
‘Lowest hanging fruit’
Charitable health care, as defined by the North Carolina Healthcare Association, is “services provided free of charge or at a significant discount.”
Every hospital has different policies, and while nonprofits like Novant and AdventHealth must offer charitable care to qualify for tax-exempt status with the federal government, for-profit hospitals like HCA are not.
Walker said Dollar For al Mission Health is processing applications for financial aid following the release of the application, but he fears his team and the applicants will run into more obstacles.
“We got the application, we got them to put it on their site,” Walker said on Nov. 18. “The question now is, are they accepting applications here? When we start sending in applications, will they accept them and process them? Or will they still say, ‘You need to talk to a financial advisor before we even look into it? to look?'”
There is also the issue of filing the application. Walker said in a recent interview that many hospitals require applicants to fax or mail the documentation, an outdated and cumbersome process.
Regardless, he said the information is helpful to some extent and encouraged HCA to post the application on the rest of its hospital websites.
“If you cared about your patients’ financial well-being, you would give them access to the lowest hanging fruit source you have to help them escape financial ruin due to medical debt,” Walker said.
Need help with medical debt?
More information on whether Mission Health patients are eligible for charitable care or other financial assistance is available at missionhealth.org. Dollar For also helps patients find out if they qualify and how to apply. Mission patients can start that process at dollarfor.org/asheville.
Andrew Jones is an investigative reporter for the Asheville Citizen Times, part of the USA TODAY Network. Reach him at @arjonesreports on Facebook and Twitter, 828-226-6203 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Please help support this kind of journalism with a subscription to the Civil Age.