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VCU Health System offers relief to certain patients with overdue bills

Jeremy M. Lazarus | 10/18/2019, 6 a.m.
The VCU Health System, Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical arm, is taking steps to ease the financial stress on thousands of ...

The VCU Health System, Virginia Commonwealth University’s medical arm, is taking steps to ease the financial stress on thousands of patients and their families struggling to pay their VCU hospital and doctors’ bills.

Beginning Nov. 1, the health care system will eliminate any amounts due that insurance does not cover for patients with incomes under 200 percent of the poverty line. That is roughly $25,000 for an individual and $51,500 for a family of four.

In addition, VCU Health will eliminate 50 percent of the remaining medical debt of patients with slightly higher incomes at or below 300 percent of poverty, about $37,000 for an individual and $77,250 for a family of four.

As part of the policy overhaul, VCU Health’s various arms, including doctors, dentists and a South Hill hospital subsidiary, stopped going to court in September to seek judgments, garnish wages or place liens on property of people who had not paid their hospital and medical bills.

VCU Health stated that its main health operation, the MCV Medical Center, quit using court action years ago and that now the policy is being applied to all elements of its operation that bill separately, such as the VCU Health Associated Physicians.

The changes are important in a country where medical bills are among the biggest drivers of bankruptcy filings for individuals and families.

“We realized over a year ago that our financial assistance policy had not changed to meet the needs our patients, in particular with the rise of high-deductible health plans,” Laura Rossacher, VCU Health’s spokeswoman, stated.

“As a safety-net organization, we include affordability in our vision,” she continued. “When it comes to someone’s overall health, socioeconomic and behavioral factors matters six times more than clinical care. We want to help our patients and families maintain their financial health and not negatively influence their overall health.”

VCU Health has not released any estimates on the number of patients who would be affected or the potential amount of debt the hospital system projects it might write off.

Even though VCU Health will not use the court system, it will continue collection efforts, officials said, including sending letters and calling patients in seeking work with them, reporting debts to credit bureaus or assigning the debt to a collection agency.

The two major private hospital systems in the Richmond area, HCA and Bon Secours, have not announced that they would match VCU’s new policies.

The policy changes continue VCU’s efforts to be affordable, Ms. Rossacher said.

VCU Health has long gained additional state funding to pay the full cost of the care for individuals and families with few assets and annual incomes at or below the poverty line, Ms. Rossacher said.

In addition, she said VCU Health also has provided discounts on medical bills for people with incomes up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level and for those who self pay or pay promptly.

“These are just the next steps in our effort to ensure that our patients get the best care possible,” she said.