Financial assistance available for medical costs

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Health care statements get buried in the bill pile.

Mike Nelson, Yampa Valley Medical Center's director of patient financial services, understands why. Sometimes hospital statements can be confusing. Sometimes they can be overwhelming. They don't have to be either, he said.

There are programs available for residents who qualify for financial assistance. The problem is few access the resources offered by YVMC and the Visiting Nurse Association. Patients don't know help exists, or they are hesitant to provide the private information needed to get it.

"We've been striving to improve this," Nelson said.

The program through YVMC is called the financial assistance program, and it helps patients with their hospital bill balances. All the VNA's services are offered on a sliding fee scale. The VNA has offices in Steamboat Springs and Craig.

Bills from surgeons and anesthesiologists are separate from the hospital's statement, but many physicians, surgeons or other health care providers offer their own payment plans for patients in need, Nelson said.

Those who fall within 385 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for help from YVMC compared with 185 percent at the state level.

"The state is limited by its budget," Nelson said. "Where they leave off, we see there is still a need."

YVMC wants to help in any way it can, but there are rules and restrictions. For one, the service must be medically necessary, but that can cover anything, including an emergency room visit or a scheduled surgery.

"They must demonstrate a need," Nelson said. "That could be as simple as providing a bank statement."

There has been no cap placed on the amount of money given out, but Nelson said the money YVMC has depends on the need from the year before.

Therefore, the more patients who have a need for financial assistance and receive funds, the more money YVMC gets to use the next year.

The easiest way to begin the application process is to contact a financial counselor at check-in or as soon as a person is in good health. There is paperwork to be done, so the quicker that begins, the better.

There is a timeline.

"We can't wait forever," Nelson said. "As they are leaving or shortly thereafter, they can call the main number and ask for financial counselors."

On occasion, a financial counselor will visit with patients staying in the hospital to see whether a need is there. People don't have to live in Colorado to receive the assistance, but Nelson said the hospital targets Colorado residents.

"There is some work to be done," said Christine McKelvie, YVMC's public relations director. "But it could very well be worth the effort."

That was the same message Carrie Godes, director of Community Care with the Visiting Nurse Association, passed along regarding VNA's assistance programs.

"It's better to try, than assume you don't qualify," she said. "Come in."

The sliding fee scale VNA uses for payment is based on numbers in the household and household income.

"Depending on the service we are providing, there is a certain fee scale, and where you fall determines the price you pay," Godes said.

The VNA offers no emergency services, but it offers a variety of services that begin before birth and extend to days before death. The public health services are geared toward prevention and include immunizations, prenatal care, women's health and cancer control.

Much like YVMC, the VNA requires paperwork for its programs.

The VNA also helps those who qualify for Medicaid and the Child Health Plan Plus (CHP+) enroll in the government-sponsored insurance programs. These programs cover the cost of VNA services and the cost of services provided at other medical, dental and mental health facilities.

"If you can't afford private insurance or don't have it through an employer, this is definitely an option for those who qualify," Godes said. "The guidelines were just expanded July 1."

The CHP+ eligibility cutoff was changed from 185 percent of the federal poverty level to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.

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