New system leads to billing delays for Jefferson Healthcare hospital

By Charlie Bermant
Peninsula Daily News

PORT TOWNSEND — The inability of a new software system to generate accurate patient balances has prevented Jefferson Healthcare hospital from sending out patient bills since June, prompting the hospital to send patients a mass mailing about the situation.

The letter, from hospital CFO Hillary Whittington, was sent to 5,000 people in 1,800 families Dec. 30, advising them that the missing bills will be mailed sometime in January.

Of all the bills issued, most are under $50, Whittington said.

The Epic system was installed in June and was intended to increase the efficiency in the management of Jefferson Healthcare patient records and facilitate coordinated treatment among different institutions, but it was not able to accurately display the patient’s share of the bill with regard to the insurance’s share.

Whittington said this was discovered shortly after the system was implemented, but the hospital decided to not send out any statements at all until the amounts could be reconciled.

During that time, patients had received letters from their insurance companies outlining their responsibilities for the various procedures saying that a bill would follow.

When the bills did not arrive, several patients contacted the hospital about the delay.

“We sent the letter out as a courtesy, so patients would not be confused by information sent out by their insurance company,” Whittington said.

“Once we explained this, it made sense to them why they didn’t have the other half of the bill.”

Patients who called were not given a date for when the bills would arrive but were told they would not be sent during the holiday season, something for which Business Office Director Ted Syverson said they were very grateful.

“We had people call us up and ask if we were sending bills out during Christmas and Hanukah. When we said ‘no,’ they gave us a big ‘thank you,’” he said.

Holidays aside, not receiving an expected bill can affect a family’s finances.

“The patient costs are the most disruptive part of the whole process,” Syverson said. “If a patient receives a bill that’s too much, it can throw their budgets off; it can have an adverse effect on their payment plan,” Syverson said.

“People can’t always plan for the unexpected, and the amounts tend to be a lot, so for us accuracy becomes a priority.

“We held the patients’ statements because this accuracy becomes the most important part in the providing of great care.”

The hospital is able to operate without this income for the time being, Whittington said.

While patient billings are necessary to provide services most of the operational funds come from Medicare, Medicaid and large commercial carriers with these payments “flowing correctly,” she said.

“We have stay afloat cash flow now, but we are dipping into savings,” she said.

The hospital has begun sending out bills this week but in smaller increments, in order to accommodate patient questions and financial aid requests.

Patients who receive the insurance statements and no follow up bill can pay the amount at any time, Syverson said, but there is no penalty for not doing so.

“This is on us,” Syverson said. “No one will be penalized in any way for our delay. No one’s going to go to collections. And we made this choice out of responsibility.

“That could be a source of misinformation in this case where people wonder if they are getting nicked in any way, which they are not.”

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Jefferson County Editor Charlie Bermant can be reached at 360-385-2335 or cbermant@peninsuladailynews.com.

Last modified: January 06. 2014 8:26PM
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