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Groups call for probe of St. Francis hospital over charity care

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Two community organizations called Wednesday for the Indiana Attorney General’s office to investigate Franciscan St. Francis Health’s Beech Grove hospital to determine if it is following laws on extending financial assistance to low-income patients.

Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund and Indiana Legal Services Inc. claim that “a good number” of Indianapolis south-side residents who should have qualified for reduced or waived bills at St. Francis were instead steered into payments plans.

The groups claim to have documented 93 complaints against St. Francis However, they included only one example in a 62-page report on the financial assistance policies of Indianapolis' four major hospital systems, including St. Francis.

The two groups said all four hospital systems are not doing enough to publicize and make patients aware of charity-care policies that can reduce or even eliminate their hospital bills. Also, speedier application processes would help, the groups said.

In a July 2010 report, Citizens Action and Indiana Legal Services reported that out of 800 patients with hospital debt they interviewed in a non-scientific process, nearly half had never been told about the hospital’s financial assistance policies.

“While our meetings with hospital administrators indicate that most have good intentions when it comes to charity care, there is an obvious disconnect between their hospital’s written policies and its actual practices,” said Lindsay Helmbock, director of the Indianapolis Hospital Accountability Project being operated by Citizens Action and Indiana Legal Services, in a written statement.

The groups singled out St. Francis’ Beech Grove facility, which is one of three Indianapolis-area hospitals that are part of the Franciscan Alliance, based in Mishawaka.

The groups’ latest report includes a story about Charles Melton, who received two surgeries at St. Francis Beech Grove in April 2010. When the bills arrived, he applied for financial assistance, but says the only return communication he received was a bill stamped as a final notice demanding payment.

So Melton set up a payment plan, sending $226 monthly to St. Francis. Health issues forced Melton to retire in January 2011, and he again asked St. Francis for financial assistance. St. Francis asked him to file another application, and further requests for paperwork have dragged out the process until today.

“Much of our consumer outreach has focused on the south side of Indianapolis, St. Francis’ main service area, so we have heard numerous horror stories about their harsh collection practices and failure to provide information about financial assistance to those in need,” the report states, without identifying any other specific stories.

Franciscan St. Francis issued a written response to the report, saying: "While we are confident in our financial assistance programs and our efforts to communicate these programs to patients, we hope to meet with representatives of the Coalition to work through the report and determine areas for suggested improvements. Like other hospitals, Franciscan St. Francis Health has a process to determine if a payment plan or charity care will be required. Every year we work with thousands of patients on a case-by-case basis who have difficulty paying their bills."
 

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  • They are still doing it!
    St. Francis is still practicing the same process. They do not offer assistance and instead force people into payment plans. AND...if you have multiple accounts and they set you up on the payments plan you better make sure they combine the accounts like they say. St. Francis is the worst hospital to deal with as far as billing. For several months now they have screwed up the insurance submittals and the payment plan. We've had to talk to several billing "specialist" and they still have it screwed up. We are making our monthly payments every month but they still sent us to collections because they didn't combine the accounts into 1 account. We are going to contact an attorney.
  • How is this a story?
    A 62-page report with ONE instance of an issue with St. Francis and the IBJ headline buys into the premise these two groups are making, rather than questioning how accurate the report is. Even the information from 2010 was a "non-scientific process", so how valid is that? I don't understand what credibility this so-called report has. I expect more thorough research and balanced reporting from the IBJ, rather than what amounts to a press release for Citizens Action Coalition.
  • mistyped
    Sorry, didn't mean "poverty level".. I just meant that $40,000 (gross pay only) for a family of 3 is considered "low income".
  • Great hospital
    When I had my daughter in 2008, I was 22 and my husband was 24. Together we made about $40,000, which I believe now is below the poverty level. I was on STD for 13 weeks after the c-section, so I wasn't even making my full salary. After getting the first bill from St. Francis I called and asked if they offered a payment plan (they never tell you they do, on your bill or anywhere else). They gave me all the info and 2 days later I had all of the paperwork in my hands. They contract their payment plans interest-free for 1 year through a company called PFC in Greenwood (at least STF South does). I never had any issues with paying for medical care because a) my experience there was phenomenal, and b) I understand that's just how things work. Just because a hospital turned a profit at the end of the year (very rare for our current social & economic climate, btw) doesn't mean that they should take more charity cases. I gave my personal story in the beginning because if you look hard enough, NO ONE can "afford" medical care - even when it's planned. I feel for Mr. Melton because I'm sure he didn't want to be sick or broke, but if he had $226/month to spare I'm sure he wasn't the most down-trodden person that STF had to worry about. People abuse public assistance, Medicaid, even private insurance - and at the end of the day, the good people of the world and the hospitals both get screwed. The only way to live well today is to be jobless and get on every form of govt. assistance possible!
  • rob, rn
    I have been a patient here and think it is only the greatest. I will say that for every positive story about a hospital (any hospital) there is a negative story. I am just sorry that the article only focuses on one hospital. Let's be fair and look into others. Emergency depts are so abused that there are people who use it weekly and never pay a bill, while those of us who use it rarely pay 3 times as much!!Medicine needs lots of reforming!!
  • Rn
    I work for this health system. They treat the employee's the same way this guy was treated. One would think being a so called catholic hospital, charity would be a priority but just the opposite, my whole perception of religion was pretty much altered after working for this corrupt system

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