Marin General Hospital is offering a 25 percent discount to customers with health insurance who pay promptly and as much as half off the sticker price for customers who pay on time despite a lack of insurance.
The hospital has even hired a service representative to call customers to make the pitch. A Mill Valley man contacted earlier this month said he was suspicious initially because the $800 he owed the hospital wasn't due until the end of August.
The man, who asked that his name not be used, said his daughter received magnetic resonance imaging at the hospital in June, and he received the bill in July, after his insurance company notified him how much his deductible would be.
David Cox, Marin General's chief financial officer, said that generally the 25 percent discount is available to patients with insurance who pay their insurance deductible at the time they receive their treatment, or when they're discharged from the hospital.
Cox said that in some cases, however, the discount may also be extended to insured patients who pay soon after learning what their share of the bill is.
"Sometimes when people come in we can't even tell them what the amount they owe is," Cox said. "We have to send the bill to the insurance company and they tell us."
Wanda Jones, president of San Francisco's New Century Healthcare Institute and a former Northern California hospital consultant, said the 25 percent discount is somewhat unusual.
think this is a reaction to the slowness of payment of the health plans," Jones said. "When a hospital bills an insurance company, it can take from 60 to 180 days to get the payment back and only then are they supposed to bill the net to the patient.
"This is a float that helps the insurance company, and it doesn't help the hospital," Jones said. ''Here is Marin General having to put away money for a future bond issue, and it's got to get some of that float back from the insurance company."
The Marin Healthcare District, which operates the hospital, has estimated it will cost about $500 million to build a new hospital that will meet state earthquake safety requirements that take effect in 2020. The district expects to cover some of that cost by issuing revenue bonds, which will be guaranteed by hospital revenue.
It is hardly a secret in the health care industry that people lacking health insurance are charged much higher rates than people with insurance, because the insurance companies use their clout to negotiate substantial discounts.
Cox said Marin General is providing an automatic 40 percent discount to patients lacking insurance and shaves off another 10 percent if they pay the bill promptly.
"We're trying to make it an amount that is reasonable for them to pay," Cox said. ''Also when they pay quickly, it saves us a lot of money on the back end because we don't have to do all the billing."
Cox said Sutter Health, which operated Marin General before the Marin Healthcare District resumed control in July 2010, provided only a 25 percent discount to the uninsured.
Kathie Graham, a spokeswoman for Novato Community Hospital, which is operated by Sutter Health, said the only time Novato Community would discount an insured patient's bill is if the patient had a ''really, really large bill," and applied for assistance.
Graham said Novato Community provides a 40 percent discount for inpatient services provided to uninsured patients and an extra 10 percent off if the uninsured patient pays within 30 days. Novato Community provides a 25 percent discount for outpatient services provided to uninsured patients with an additional 10 percent discount available if the patient pays within 30 days.
Joe Fragola, a spokesman for Kaiser Permanente, said most of the patients treated at Kaiser's hospital in San ''ÃRafael are pre-paid members, "so there is no bill after services."
"We don't have a standing discount program," Fragola said.
Contact Richard Halstead via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org
To see more of The Marin Independent Journal or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.marinij.com/.
(c) 2011, The Marin Independent Journal, Novato, Calif.