Financial counseling at the bedside

The Via Christi hospital system in Kansas is resorting to a proactive way to collect patient debt: Financial counseling at the bedside, the Wichita Eagle reported.

According to the Eagle, Via Christi sends financial counselors to the bedside of every patient determined to be uninsured or underinsured to determine how they can pay for their care. That includes enrollment in the system's own financial assistance program, or applying for public benefits, according to the Eagle. Hospital officials indicated that patients tend to be far more receptive to in-person visits than receiving bills or collection phone calls after their discharge.

The use of in-house financial counseling during care tends to cut down on uncompensated care costs for hospitals. The Sharp Healthcare hospital system in San Diego saved $5 million as part of a pilot project when emergency room patients received counseling and aid enrolling in coverage for which they were eligible. The project is now permanently in use in Sharp's four ERs.

In Kansas, which is not likely to expand Medicaid eligibility in 2014 as part of the Affordable Care Act, providers will still have to shoulder federal cuts to disproportionate share hospitals that go into effect this fall, according to the Eagle. As a result, hospitals in Kansas expect to have much higher charity care caseloads in the coming years, according to the Eagle--making programs such as bedside counseling key to keeping uncompensated care under control.

To learn more:
- read the Wichita Eagle article