NC system gets flack for collecting charges upfront

The UNC Health Care System has had a charitable mission since its founding in 1947. Owned by the state of North Carolina, it gets about 5 percent of its operating budget from the state, support that is supposed to help it care for the poor. That's why the hospital received a significant amount of flack when two years ago, it announced that it would collect patients' portion of their fees prior to providing care. So great was the outcry that critics mounted a petition drive to stop the move--and execs agreed to postpone their efforts.

Less than two years later, however, UNC has implemented the pre-care collection policy, under which it collects any moneys the patient will be responsible for paying. If patients aren't well-off financially, they may qualify for Medicaid or free or discounted care. Those who don't can also set up a no-interest payment plan, hospital leaders said. In their defense, execs have noted that if they don't collect on site, their odds of collecting drop 60 percent--and that collectively, even co-pays can contribute a lot of much-needed cash. In truth, their policy isn't that unusual, but in a day where patient co-pays and deductibles are skyrocketing, it's likely that patients will face some very significant bills. This kind of policy is becoming quite common, both in public and private facilities, but it's not hard to see why critics fear that it will drive some patients away.

To learn more about this issue:
- read this News & Observer article