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More than nine months after Mosaic Life Care vowed to review debt collection practices, administrators have announced the installation of new guidelines, including a medical debt grace period.

“It’s a gift. It’s an initiative. It’s a way to tell the community that we are changing the way that we do things relative to billing and collections, and we want to reach out to them and correct any shortfallings that may have happened in the past,” said Dr. Mark Laney, president and CEO of Mosaic. “This is a great opportunity, even if someone just has a question and they aren’t sure, now is the time to answer that question.”

The medical debt grace period, which will extend from Oct. 1 to Dec. 31, will allow patients with an outstanding balance to apply for financial assistance, even if legal action has been taken, according to the hospital. If patients qualify for 100-percent financial assistance, they can have all of their debt written off in what the hospital calls a “fresh start.”

Additional financial aid offered during the medical debt grace period includes a 50-percent discount to the principal on an account and write-off of additional fees and interest, a write-off of the remaining Mosaic balance owed and the write-off of accrued interest and legal fees. All financial aid is offered based on income.

The hospital also released a new 11-page financial assistance policy, published on Mosaic’s website Sept. 25. The new policy contains more detailed explanations of services, billing and financial aid in plain language, according to the hospital. The changes were aided by feedback from community focus groups.

“We have changed our philosophy completely and are moving to a very proactive, front-end process to get all these things worked out before someone even has a bill,” Dr. Laney said. “It’s not going to interfere or delay patient care or eliminate them from getting patient care, but it’s going to get things done up front.”

The focus groups, which included all levels of payer mix, were conducted to provide input on the “ease of understanding and patient interpretation of verbiage” in the financial assistance policy, according to the hospital. Financial assistance is open to all patients, including those with insurance.

Additional financial assistance policy changes include clarification on how to obtain financial assistance and the qualifications, identification of which services and providers are covered under the policy and clarification about the collections process upon nonpayment. The time period during which financial assistance is available also will be increased beginning in 2016.

Other implemented changes include “widely” publicizing the availability and process to apply for financial assistance, according to hospital spokesperson Tracey Clark. While information was previously available, officials will continue to increase the visibility and accessibility of the information, she said.

Overall, the financial aid process should be easier to navigate and more proactive about helping patients, Dr. Laney said. The hope, he said, is to make the available aid easier to navigate and prevent legal action as often as possible.

“That’s one of our goals,” he said. “(Legal action) should be an extraordinary circumstance. It will continue to be a last resort. The problem was, because we were backloaded on that, we had more difficulty in recovering and being able to proactively prevent that.”

In 2014, Northwest Financial Services, the for-profit debt collection service of Mosaic Life Care, issued approximately 2,400 wage garnishment cases. In 2015 to date, there have been 520 wage garnishments issued. Legal action was suspended from January to April while policies were reviewed.

“Hopefully because we are going to be more proactive on the front end in the future, we will have dramatically fewer problems going forward,” Dr. Laney said.

Timeline

The hospital announced in December 2014 that it would review billing and debt collection practices after a study by ProPublica and National Public Radio found the nonprofit hospital had more than 2,200 wage garnishments in 2013, more than any other hospital in the state.

“We feel as if we are a great community partner ... we want to continue to be a good community partner and we want to continue to do what’s right, so we will take a look at those policies,” said Tama Wagner, chief brand officer with Mosaic, in December 2014. Ms. Wagner is no longer with Mosaic.

Early changes included the elimination of the 9 percent interest charged on cases in collections. Additional changes were announced in March 2015, along with a 100-working-day timeline, which was later extended, for implementing the changes now in action.

In the next year, he hopes the changes will continue to help patients navigate the financial aid and billing process, eliminate previous issues and reduce legal action, Dr. Laney said.

“My hope is that people see a bill that they can understand. My hope is that there are no surprises,” Dr. Laney said. “... My hope is that the billing and collections part of the business doesn’t detract from the wonderful experience and the healing, loving care you receive while you are here.”

For more information on the medical debt grace period, call Mosaic Life Care at 816-271-7524 or 800-447-1095.

Jena Sauber can be reached at jena.sauber@newspressnow.com. Follow her on Twitter: @SJNPSauber.