Traverse City Record-Eagle

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March 26, 2013

Some balk at Munson's request to pre-pay deductibles, co-pays

TRAVERSE CITY — Stay-at-home dad Caleb Smith received a jolt when Munson Medical Center called to schedule a prescribed ultrasound and then asked for a credit card payment to cover his $330 deductible and co-pay.

He declined because he didn’t want to give his credit card number over the phone. He was then told he “had the ability to pay” when he arrived for the ultrasound, he said.

“They were holding my health hostage. ‘Pay now, pay in three days or forego a doctor-recommended procedure,’” Smith said. “In this situation, they held all the cards.”

Karen Popa of Munson Medical Center regrets that Smith had a bad experience. He should have been informed of his third option: paying the bill when he received it. The hospital’s patient access service representative made a mistake, she said.

Munson began asking patients to pay deductibles and co-pays in advance of scheduled in-patient stays and procedures last fall. In the past, patients were routinely billed only after the procedure or hospital stay.

Popa said health care reform is changing how hospitals and insurers operate. Both are examining how they operate in order to “stay financially strong in the community,” she said.

“So informing patients beforehand is one of those changes,” Popa said. “We don’t like patients being surprised by their bills.”

That element of surprise is occurring more often as more people shift to insurance plans with higher deductibles. They may not understand their new policies, and end up with a bill much higher than expected, she said.

“As a patient, if I were in that situation, I would want to know ahead of time,” Popa said.

The real goal is for patients to understand their insurance coverage before the procedure. If the patient can’t pay, Munson can talk to them about other options, she said.

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