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February 18, 2009 > Washington Hospital Enhances Discount Policy for Uninsured

Washington Hospital Enhances Discount Policy for Uninsured

Insurance Assistance and Free Care for Qualified Patients Also Available

In response to the current faltering economy and dramatic rise in unemployment that has put many people at risk for losing their employer-provided health care coverage, Washington Hospital Healthcare System has enhanced its discount policy for uninsured patients who do not qualify for free care.

"There is no doubt that times are tough with health care costs continuing to rise and many people facing an uncertain economic future," says Chris Henry, Chief Financial Officer of Washington Hospital. "As an independent, locally owned district hospital, we want to do whatever we can to help our district residents and the uninsured."

This new policy - which was retroactive to July 1, 2008 - provides a 35 percent discount for both inpatient and outpatient medically necessary care for all uninsured patients who do not qualify for free care. (Elective procedures such as cosmetic surgery are not eligible for the discounts.) The previous policy provided a 25 percent discount for outpatient services and a 30 percent discount for inpatient services.

Also under the new policy, residents of Washington Township Health Care District who are uninsured and do not qualify for free care will receive an additional 10 percent discount, for a total discount of 45 percent. Patients must show proof of residency in the district, such as a valid photo ID or a utility bill, in order to receive the additional 10 percent discount.

Henry notes that the new policy reflects Washington Hospital's commitment to the community. "The residents of our district, who own this hospital, supported us 50 years ago by providing funding when no one else would so that Washington Hospital could be built," he says. "District residents continued their support by providing funding to build the six-floor patient tower. More recently, they passed Measure FF, which provides funding for renovations to our emergency room and our intensive and critical care units.

"Over the years, the District's residents have stood by Washington Hospital," he adds. "Now, when times are tough, we need to be there for our residents."


Insurance Information and Financial Counseling

Recognizing that many patients hesitate to seek medical treatment because they lack insurance or don't know how to apply for either commercial or government health plans, Washington Hospital offers health insurance information and financial counseling services.

"Health Insurance Information is a free and confidential service providing counseling to anyone in need," says Director of Community Outreach Ruth Traylor. "The service is especially valuable for people who have lost their jobs or insurance, those who are changing jobs, people who are new to the area, or those who are turning 65 and are looking for supplemental coverage for Medi-Care. We also help people enroll in government-sponsored programs such as Healthy Families."

Health Insurance Information Services does not sell insurance policies. "Because we are not selling anything, we can be non-biased," Traylor explains. "We don't promote any particular provider. Our aim is to help people find the best health care plan for themselves and their families."

On average, Health Insurance Information assists 1,200 to 1,500 people a year. "Because of the state of the economy, we expect to see an increased need for our services," Traylor says. "We're trying to get the word out so people are aware of the assistance we can provide."

The Health Insurance Information Services department is open Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. People can either call ahead for an appointment or simply drop in. For more information, call (800) 770-9447 or (510) 494-7005

Washington Hospital also offers financial counseling for uninsured patients who are treated in the emergency room or admitted to the hospital to help them determine whether they are qualified for programs such as Medi-Cal or the hospital's discount policy.

Maria Contreras, a Washington Hospital financial counselor visits uninsured patients while they are in the hospital to obtain their financial information and help them fill out applications for Medi-Cal coverage. Patients who are treated in the emergency room are provided with a packet of information regarding financial assistance.

"We determine whether or not these patients are qualified for Medi-Cal or other programs," Contreras explains. "If not, we see if they qualify for our discounts. We also can direct them to various assistance programs within the county."

In addition to meeting income and assets guidelines for Medi-Cal, patients may fall into four different types of Medi-Cal coverage.

"We work closely with our patients and their families to explore all their options to see if we can help them," Contreras says. "Washington Hospital is committed to the people of this community. We go all out for our patients to help them any way we can."


Free Care for Qualified Patients

Washington Hospital also offers a Financial Assistance Program that provides free care to uninsured patients whose income is less than or equal to 350 percent of the federal poverty level.

"For the fiscal year that ended June 30, 2008, Washington Hospital provided $9.7 million in financial assistance to uninsured and underinsured patients," says Sandi Adcock, Washington Hospital's Director of Patient Financial Services. "For the first seven months of the current fiscal year, we already have provided $11.6 million in financial assistance."

Adcock explains that free care is available for many uninsured patients who are treated in the emergency room or are admitted to the hospital from the emergency room. "Uninsured patients who do not qualify for any government-funded programs and who have an income that is at or below 350 percent of the federal poverty level may be eligible for free medically necessary care," she says.

The federal poverty level and corresponding income that qualifies for free care at Washington Hospital is based on the number of people in the family. For example:
* An uninsured single person can earn up to $36,400, which is 350 percent of the poverty level of $10,400.
* An uninsured married couple can earn up to $49,000, which is 350 percent of the poverty level of $14,000.
* An uninsured family of four could have an income of up to $74,200, which is 350 percent of the poverty level of $21,200.

"We recognize that there are uninsured people who really need financial assistance," Adcock says. "In some cases, we also can provide charitable assistance to underinsured patients who are insured by government or commercial health plans and whose patient responsibility for medical costs such as co-payments and deductibles meet the Commonwealth Fund criteria."

To determine whether people are eligible for free care, the hospital needs their most current tax returns, W2 forms and pay stubs for the past six months. A driver's license or other photo ID also is required to protect against identity theft. In some instances, patients also may be asked to provide current bank account statements or other financial records.

"The biggest fear people have in coming to the emergency room is facing a huge bill," Adcock says. "They don't know how they can possibly pay it. We're here to help them. It is our commitment to provide quality care to all residents of our community, regardless of their ability to pay. We have a patient-first ethic here - we don't want people to be afraid to seek essential medical care."

If you have any questions regarding financial assistance, please call Washington Hospital's Patient Accounting Department at (510) 791-3448.

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