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Posted: Sunday, Apr. 22, 2012

Proving need isn’t easy for patients

By Ames Alexander
Published in: Prognosis: Profits
  • Prognosis: Profits

    A five-part series examining how N.C. hospitals profit at the expense of patients.

    Sunday: Nonprofits very profitable

    Monday: Charity care lacking

    Tuesday: Suing the needy

    Wednesday: Staying strong in Raleigh

    Thursday: Policies that could help

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    At some North Carolina hospitals, qualifying for charity care can be onerous.

    Among the pieces of information that Carolinas Medical Center-Pineville requested in its 2010 charity care application:

    • Details on all forms of income, including alimony, child support and unemployment.

    • The tax values and loan amounts on all vehicles and real estate owned.

    • The account numbers and amounts deposited in all checking and savings accounts, CDs, stocks and bonds – along with the last deposit in each.

    • The cash value and face values of any life insurance and burial insurance contracts.

    When people are sick or recovering from serious medical problems, providing all that information can be daunting, patient advocates say.

    “We’ve talked with some people who, when confronted with an application like that, said, ‘I didn’t even bother applying,’ ” said Mark Rukavina, executive director of the Access Project, a group working to improve access to health care.

    Some hospitals make it easier for patients to qualify. Novant Health, for instance, does “soft” credit checks on uninsured patients to determine whether they’re eligible for charity care.

    Carolinas HealthCare System, which owns CMC-Pineville, said it “would be irresponsible” not to ask patients for financial information as it determines whether they are eligible for assistance.

    “Our process follows industry standard, and we believe it balances the need to make accurate decisions with not overburdening the patient and family with information and document requests,” system officials wrote in response to the Observer’s questions.

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