Case study: Wichita hospital screens patients for government benefit eligibility

Rather than chase possibly noncollectable balances through the collections process, one Wichita, KS hospital has decided to cope with its steady increase in uninsured and underinsured patients by creating a financial counseling department. This department is focused on qualifying patients for charity care and government assistance programs. It includes extra staff and added technology designed to make sure patients who are eligible for public benefits actually get enrolled.

This hospital, Via Christi Regional Medical Center, had seen its uninsured and underinsured population grow nearly 10 percent since the beginning of 2007, a trend it couldn't ignore. Still, leaders there didn't want to turn patients away. Their solution puts more pressure on the hospital's charity care programs, but allows them to treat more underserved patients and get their money sooner (by getting more patients enrolled in government programs).

In focusing on patient qualification, Via Christi is taking an approach likely to become more common, experts say. With most hospitals seeing a substantial increase in uninsured and underinsured patients, ranging from a 6 percent increase all the way to a 20 percent increase, financial leaders have to address the related rise in bad debt. And while collections activity is still an option, doing more to qualify patients for assistance programs may do more to lower levels of noncollectable debt, observers suggest.

For more information on this unusual solution:
- Read this insideARM piece