BVRMC shares options
As a public hospital, Buena Vista Regional Medical Center must survive a rock-and-a-hard-place situation. It must provide care to anyone in need, whether they can afford to pay or not. And once it has given that care, it has to collect on those bills if it is going to stay financially healthy to continue to answer the community's needs.
There's good news for the Medical Center's accounts on that front - the amount of unpaid accounts that have to be sent to a collection agency are on the decrease for the third consecutive year, projected down to 2.8 percent of gross patient revenue for the 2004 fiscal year ending in June.
BVRMC is on pace to send just over a million dollars in bills to collection agencies this fiscal year, contrary to the trend in health care statewide, as other hospitals are seeing steady rises in unpaid accounts sent to collection agencies.
While the Storm Lake hospital has seen some public criticism of late for its utilization of collection agencies, BVRMC officials answer that it needs to diligently pursue timely payment in full on its patient accounts in order to responsibly maintain its sound financial status and ability to serve the community.
"Buena Vista Regional Medical Center always has, and always will, take care of our patients, regardless of their ability to pay," Chief Financial Officer Mike Dewerff said in a statement, noting that BVRMC works hard to seek timely payment of bills after that service in provided.
The BVRMC policy brochure reads that "Hospital policy requires full payment of all accounts for services rendered... The hospital will render medical care to all persons in need, regardless of race, creed, handicap, sex, religion, national origin, age, payment source, or ability to pay for care."
Patients at BVRMC find that they are required by hospital policy to pay up - or pay whatever is left over after an insurance payment - within 30 days of receiving their first statement after receiving care.
Despite criticisms of that policy, BVRMC officials note that their policy, and their collections strategy, are not unbendable. Policy states in writing that "special permission to pay over a period of time" may be deemed possible, if the patient contacts the hospital office for information.
BVRMC provides a financial counselor who can help patients understand their financial obligations and will help them arrange payments, the hospital statement adds. "BVRMC works with patients who show a consistent commitment to work with, and communicate with us in terms of payment plans."
While interest-free extended payment plans are sometimes allowed, BVRMC always accepts credit cards, personal bank loans and guaranteed bank loans in payment, as well as charity care or financial assistance for those who qualify and take the initiative to apply, according to the statement.
When those who owe bills are sporadic in payment or communication, it can be more efficient to utilize a collection agency than for BVRMC to continue to try to monitor and collect on the bill itself after 120 days have gone by.
Hospital officials said they could not comment on any specific cases such as the criticisms they have received may refer to. Federal patient privacy regulations prohibit patient health care information fromm being divulged without the patient's authorization, Dewerff indicates.