Ohio hospitals offer patient loan programs

Some Ohio hospitals now provide loans to patients struggling to meet their insurance deductibles or co-payments, the Columbus Dispatch reports.

Mount Carmel Health System will set up patient loans for balances of $300 or more that run as long as 60 months, with annual interest rates of around 4 percent, according to the Dispatch. Wexner Medical Center, part of Ohio State University's healthcare system, is considering a similar loan program. That system is currently educating patients on the structure of their health plans so as to avoid "sticker shock" when they receive their bills.

While the hospital is seeing fewer uninsured patients, many of them have deductibles of $10,000 or more, a daunting prospect to repay in one shot, according to Debra Lowe, Wexner's director of revenue cycle. About 80 percent of those who sign up for health insurance exchange coverage in Ohio choose high-deductible plans, according to the Dispatch.

Patient debt is an ongoing concern for hospitals, and patients' personal finances have been particularly pinched since the onset of the Great Recession nearly seven years ago. Some hospital systems, such as Carolinas Healthcare, have gone so far as to file thousands of lawsuits against their patients.

However, some providers have taken a less confrontational stance on debt collection. Many hire outside firms that are less hard-nosed in their techniques and provide payment plans. In those instances, as much as 90 percent of patient debts are paid in full.

Payment plans also make sense for providers such as Wexner, which only recoups about 5 percent of its outstanding patient debt, according to the Dispatch. And hospitals in the Columbus area report bad debt totaling $357 million in 2013, up 14 percent from the prior year.

To learn more:
- read the Columbus Dispatch article

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