MEDICAL COSTS: Maine Hospital Accepts Patient Services As Payment
Today's Los Angeles Times profiles one hospital's novel approach to covering charity care costs. Franklin Memorial Hospital, a small community hospital in rural Maine, "allows patients to clear their bills by providing services." Under its Contract for Care program, Franklin forgives the medical debt of uninsured, low-income patients who have worked off their debt by performing such services as data entry, landscaping and rewriting hospital brochures. The uninsured rate in this area is about 20%, with many more "undercovered." One uninsured women who worked off an $8,000 surgery bill said, "If I hadn't done this, good Lord, I would be paying off that surgery for the rest of my life. ... I didn't have the feeling that I was taking charity." Another woman who planted a garden at the hospital to pay off her Fallopian tube surgery said, "Maybe if they did it this way in more places, it might keep people from feeling so much despair about mounting medical prices."
You Scratch My Back...
According to the Times, the program was conceived three years ago by Franklin President Richard Batt, who proposed "formalizing a system of barter" that he had been extending to certain impoverished patients. The hospital's board of directors agreed to use the Contract for Care program to "augment" its charity care policy. Health care facilities around the nation have inquired about the program, said Batt. Richard Wade, senior vice president of the American Hospital Association, said the Contract for Care program "is unique now," but the Times notes that "trading services for health care has time-honored roots in American history." At a time when "the number of uninsured people and underinsured people is expected to soar," Wade said that reviving the age-old tradition of trading services or goods for health care services is a positive trend. "It could be a whole way of connecting people to their communities, and to their hospitals, that we have not even thought about," he said. The connection that the program makes with the community is one of the reasons the program -- and the hospital in general -- is so successful, said Batt. "In five years, we've become one of the strongest hospitals of our size in New England. We've done this as a corollary, as a direct result, of serving our community well. So the bottom line here, literally, is that if you meet community needs, you will be enormously successful as a business," he said. The Times reports that Franklin is one of the lowest-cost hospitals in Maine (Mehren, 6/8).