John Daley ReportingUtah health care giant IHC is making significant changes to its billing and insurance plans, changes aimed at helping Utahns who received charitable financial assistance. According to a recent study 18 percent of Utahns cannot afford health insurance. But Intermountain Health Care is working to get the message out that they have a program to help.
At LDS Hospital this morning IHC held a press conference. One participant had a story to tell, which IHC wants to share. A couple of years ago Karmen needed a pair of knee surgeries and a few weeks later she had a stroke. Her medical emergency became a financial emergency.
Karmen Coombs, IHC Patient: "My sister and I had just bought a house and there was no way we would be able to pay for it. It was actually IHC who came up and spoke to me about getting some help."
Her total bill came to more that 55-thousand dollars, all of it covered by IHC's charitable financial assistance program.
Last year 147,000 people applied for and got charitable care through IHC, but IHC administrators admit many people are unaware about the program or think they may not qualify.
Nancy Nowak, IHC Chief Nursing Officer: "For IHC it's our philosophy and it’s our practice that the fear of a medical bill should never prevent someone to seek care."
To that end IHC is making changes to the charitable assistance program. It will not use a court proceeding to collect an unpaid bill unless there is evidence of fraud or an indication of a person who has the money but refuses to pay. IHC is reducing the interest rate for extended payments. Several Citiznes Advisory Groups will give input about billing and collection. And an ombudsman's office will be established.
Just this last session IHC's tax-exempt status was threatened by state lawmakers, some whom questioned the effectiveness of IHC's charitable care program. IHC leaders say they understand part of their challenge is education.
Greg Poulsen, IHC, Senior Vice President: "It's educating lawmakers to a moderate degree, but most of it is educating ordinary people who have either had care or are thinking about getting care."
IHC has also set up an information "help line" for questions about charitable financial assistance. The toll-free number is 1-800-442-1128. Inquiries can also be submitted online at ihc.com.