Hospital Teams With Bank To Offer Interest-Free Loans So Patients Can Pay Their Bills

Health care, especially of the emergency kind, has been known to leave consumers with hefty bills and few options expect to go into debt. But now some health systems are finding ways to give their patients relief when it comes to credit-destroying medical bills.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that health care systems are ditching their in-house payment plans and teaming up with banks to offer patients interest-free loans to pay their medical bills – even if they have no way of repaying the loan.

Back in March, SSM Health Care, which operates in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Wisconsin, partnered with Commerce Bank to offer interest-free loans with three- and five-year terms to make it easier for consumers to pay their ever-increasing deductibles.

The program, for which Commerce receives a fee for servicing the loans, doesn’t require a credit check and won’t deny loans even if the patient doesn’t have the ability to pay.

Consumers with a hospital bill of more than $300 are eligible for the program. But only patients with a balance of $7,000 or more for hospital services are eligible for a five-year term loan.

While there is no monthly minimum payment requirement, the first payment must be $300. If the consumer stops paying or defaults SSM would be responsible for collecting the debt.

So far, the program between SSM and Commerce has lent $6.5 million to about 4,000 patients.

“The need for something like this has always existed,” Paul Sahney, vice president of revenue management for SSM tells the Post-Dispatch. “Out-of-pocket costs, which is the deductible, co-pay, will continue to rise very significantly over the next five years.”

In the past, SSM worked out payment plans with consumers, but Sahney says the hospitals were not equipped to effectively manage monthly payments and that turning to banks made more sense.

Additionally, officials say the new partnership won’t just help consumers. Saheny says the hope is that SSM will be able to drive down its own debt through the partnership with Commerce.

Hospitals look for new ways to collect unpaid medical bills [The St. Louis Post-Dispatch]

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