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Rice Hospital in Willmar, Minn., offers 'amnesty' to pay off old patient bills

WILLMAR -- Got an old unpaid bill at Rice Memorial Hospital?

The hospital recently began offering "amnesty" in the form of a 25 percent discount to patients who pay off the entire balance for care they received Jan. 31 or earlier.

It's the first time Rice has done so, and hospital officials hope patients take advantage of the amnesty to settle older bills.

"We're hoping the program works," said Jackie Hinderks, director of revenue and reimbursement. "I have seen a lot flow through already."

The move was prompted by a hospital-wide implementation last week of a new computer system that integrates clinical and financial information on patients.

Going forward, patients who receive care on or after Feb. 1 will be in the new system, Hinderks said.

That leaves an old patient accounting system that the hospital's business department wants to clear up in upcoming months, she said.

Notices are being sent out to patients who have unpaid balances on bills for hospital care incurred Jan. 31 or earlier. There's one caveat: To be eligible for the discount, the bill can't already be with a collection agency.

Clearing the books of older patient accounts will help speed up the cash flow and allow the staff to avoid duplication, said Bill Fenske, chief financial officer. "It eliminates the work of having to go back."

No end date has been set for the amnesty, although it likely will last through this year's tax season, he said.

He and Hinderks said the outstanding balances on individual accounts could range from a couple of hundred dollars to several thousand dollars. Because payment plans set up by the hospital often extend for a full year, or longer in case of financial hardship, some of the accounts eligible for the amnesty might date back a year or more.

Rice's implementation of its new health information system, which went live on Feb. 1, also temporarily suspended a business office service that gives patients an estimate ahead of time of what their bill and their out-of-pocket expenses will be.

"We're hoping to start it up again in the next few weeks," Hinderks said.

In the meantime, patients who receive hospital care on or after Feb. 1 can get a discount if they pay off the balance when the first billing notice is sent out.

Anne Polta

Anne Polta covers health care, business/economic development and general assignment. Her HealthBeat blog can be found at Follow her on Twitter at @AnnePolta.

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