A few years ago, uninsured and underinsured Deaconess Health System patients often left the hospital with a large medical bill and the stress of knowing they had no good way to pay it. Meanwhile, the regional health system, which serves parts of Indiana, Illinois and Kentucky, watched its accounts receivable balance grow.
“For years, we made payment arrangements directly with patients,” explains Kristy Perkins, Deaconess’ patient financial experience manager. By 2014 ,the health system was self-managing millions in debt through payment plans that gave patients up to two years to pay off balances.
“My job is to provide our patients with the best financial experience possible,” said Perkins. “That can be hard to do when a patient leaves the hospital owing larger balances.”
To keep the lines of communication open, Perkins says her staff formerly spent a significant amount of time making payment reminder calls to patients and listening to their financial plights. “There were still a lot of patients unable to keep up with their payment arrangement.”
Today, Deaconess’ delinquency rate has dropped, and its internal patient debt load has been substantially reduced thanks to a no-interest healthcare financing program, called Health Services Financing (HSF®) now available to qualifying patients from Commerce Bank. Depending on their balance, patients can now spread their payments over as many as 36 months. Deaconess only self-manages loans that will be paid off within three months.
Deaconess introduced the program in 2015 after learning about it from Commerce Bank. Perkins considers the HSF® program to be a win-win for all. “Our patients are grateful for this interest-free option,” says Perkins. “By making it easy for them to obtain the financing they need, Commerce is giving them one less thing to worry about as they recover.”
As for Deaconess? “Rather than being paid back over time, we now receive funding from Commerce within days of a patient enrolling in the loan program,” says Perkins. In addition to improving cash flow, the health system has slashed printing, mailing and labor costs associated with in-house patient payment plan administration. Its loan recourse rate is one of the lowest among hospitals in the region.
Automation has simplified the enrollment process as well. Each month, about 150 patients choose to self-enroll in the program through Commerce Bank’s online portal, according to Perkins. “When patients self-enroll, the information goes straight to Commerce,” she says. Deaconess customer service staff are available to enroll patients who need more help with the process.
Since implementing the HSF® program, Perkins says her department’s role has evolved. “We are now able to spend more time finding solutions for patients who are unable to pay their bills,” she explains. “We focus on the front end, while Commerce handles the back end of the process.”
Last year, Deaconess worked with Commerce Bank to further streamline the HSF® enrollment and management process. The health system is now implementing HSF® at an affiliate hospital that contracts with Deaconess for its billing services. The health system recently completed a merger with another hospital that was already using the Commerce Bank HSF® solution.
“Commerce Bank has been a great partner from the beginning,” says Perkins. “They made onboarding easy. They listen to our ideas for improvements. Everything about their approach is professional.”
"I can’t imagine going back to the way we handled patient financing before. HSF® has had such a positive impact on both our patients and our health system."Kristy Perkins, Patient financial experience manager, Deaconess Health Systems — Evansville, Indiana