One Michiana hospital is taking part in a pilot program aimed at cutting costs and making healthcare expenses easier to understand for patients.
St. Joseph Regional Medical Center is one of 500 sites nationwide participating in the program that will streamline the way medical bills are handled.
Hospital financial counselor Manuel Navarro sees plenty of patients that need guidance. They come into his office with bills, stress and confusion. It is a formula that makes understanding the numbers of the page more difficult.
"I sit down with them and tell that doctors bill separately," he said.
But soon, many of the patients that walk through the doors of the St. Joseph Regional Hospital won't have to deal with the hassle of all these separate bills.
"This an effort to chip away at costs and at same time make business sense for operators and providers," said Al Gutierrez, president and CEO of the hospital.
The facility was chosen to take part in the program after what Gutierrez calls an "extensive" application process. They have now committed to three years with the program. The bundled billing approach is focused on Medicare patients for now.
Currently, Medicare must make payments to all the different specialists and groups that care for one patient during a hospital visit. The new approach will enable Medicare to pay one fee to the hospital and then the hospital will distribute the appropriate payments to specific doctors.
"The more that you can bring the billing process close to the point of where the consumer is, the easier is for consumer to evaluate what occurred and what could have gone wrong in the bill," Gutierrez said.
In a sense, the hospital will act as a distribution point for the payments.
"Think of your grandmother," he said. "If she were to slip and fall in the community and go to the emergency room, that is a bill from emergency room doctor. If she has a broken bone and needs her hip replaced, bill from the orthopedic surgeon. So this is an attempt to reconcile all of this and allow hospital to be an intermediary."
Gutierrez also said that the private insurers could like at this approach down the road, see it as a best practice and handle their private clients in the same way.