Ascension Health raised eyebrows last spring when its board of directors addressed crushing patient debt caused by high-deductible health insurance plans with a simple but expensive corporate policy.
Henceforth, Ascension would waive the deductibles or unpaid bills for any patient earning below 250% of the federal poverty level at any of its 141 hospitals and other facilities across 24 states.
There were practical reasons for the new approach, said Ascension CEO Anthony Tersigni. The system realized from experience that most of the money would never be collected.
But foremost, Ascension board members felt that the system's stated mission of caring for the poor and most vulnerable demanded that they step up to the hardships created by high-deductible plans, including for the newly insured in the Affordable Care Act exchanges, Tersigni said.
“We believe that everyone deserves quality, personalized healthcare; and our new charity-care policy relieves some of the cost pressures associated with getting the care needed by individuals and their families,” he said.
Not all hospital systems have the means or inclination to replicate Ascension's debt-forgiveness policy. But the issue of the rise of high-deductible plans is forcing itself onto the radar of hospital boards across the country.