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Taking Some Of The Sting Out Of Visiting The Hospital

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WHITEFISH -

North Valley Hospital in Whitefish is lowering the cost of care for hundreds of its patients.

With the Affordable Care Act waiting in the wings, non-profit North Valley Hospital in Whitefish has upped its financial aid for uninsured and underinsured patients.

"It makes me feel warm all over, I guess. I was glad the board was able to approve that," said Laurie Pierce, the patient financial services manager at the Hospital.

Officially, the Hospital increased from a maximum eligibility guideline of 250% to 400% of the federal poverty level.

"Basically what that means, to give you an example, for a family of four making less than $94,000 we would write off 44% of that bill for them," explained Pierce.

Just last year, the Hospital gave more than $22 million worth of uncompensated care--this is the part of the medical bill that the Hospital does not collect, designating it as a charitable contribution to the community it serves. With the new policy, that figure could keep climbing.

"We've seen continued growth in bad debt, people that can't afford to pay their bill. Instead of us pursuing those bills, allowing them to be claimed as charity," said Jason Spring, the chief executive officer of the Hospital.

By bad debt, Spring indicates the portion of medical bills patients are unable to pay. Spring also cites the rise in insurance deductibles as motivation for the extra aid. For bills less than $1,500, there is only a one-page application to complete for help and qualification depends most heavily on annual income and number of dependents, but there is some wiggle room.

"If they've lost their job or their spouse has lost their job, then we'll go back those last three months and try to calculate it that way," said Pierce.

The new policy is already in practice and Spring estimates it has allowed more than a hundred people to receive care.

Click here for more information regarding financial assistance at North Valley Hospital.

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