(HELENA) When anyone goes to the hospital, it is usually for procedures or tests that are necessary. Sometimes the visits are precautionary and optional, but paying for those services are not.

After receiving treatment, St. Peter’s Hospital in Helena will send a statement with the remaining balance once any insurance is processed and applied.

But St. Peter’s understands that this number can be startling and is prepared to work with patients.

“We try as best we can to work with the patient because we understand that some of these bills, especially in the last few years as deductibles and co-insurance have gotten higher, it takes a little bit longer to pay that off,” said St. Peter’s Hospital Vice President of Finance John Green.

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After first receiving the statement, patients have 120 days to pay the balance. If that time frame is not financially feasible, there are options available.

“We do have a patient assistance program here that allows for write offs of either all or part of a bill based on financial need,” said Green.

Contacting the billing department as soon as you receive the statement to set up a payment plan with the hospital is another option that patients have. Green also explains that if paying the balance is an option for patients within the 120 days, St. Peter’s could extend the deadline.

“So if they’re doing their best to make restitution then we’ll allow a little bit of extra time.”

But doing nothing is a fast track to getting sent to a collections agency that could impact your credit score.

“I think there’s a lot of people that would be eligible for our finance assistance, but they don’t contact us and without us having any information about that, we then refer the account over to a collections agency.”

St. Peter’s has experienced some issues with their billing in the last year, so if you have had difficulties with statements, you’re not alone.

“In the last 15 to 16 months we’ve had a difficult time with some of our bills because we’ve outsourced the statement processing to a new vendor and that didn’t go as well as we had planned,” said Green.

Green went on to explain that the billing department is looking at new options to combat this issue “that include a different statement vendor that will have an easier statement to read for the patient.”

Patients should also expect to get a better understanding of how much any procedure will cost them out of pocket before anything is done, assuming the situation is not an emergency.

Green says the hospital is implementing a new loan program to help patients pay off their balances.

“It’ll be a program that will allow for low or no interest on extended payment periods,” explained Green. “We’re still working out the details of that.”

All of these new changes to the billing department will be fully implemented within the next four months.

Below are some answers to frequently asked questions about billing procedures:

How much time do I have to pay my bill?
Once you receive your first bill for a medical service, you have 120 days to either

A)   Pay the bill in full, or

B)   Set up a payment plan with St. Peter’s by calling one of our helpful Financial Advocates at 406-447-2828.

If you have not done either of these things within the 120 day time frame, you will be sent to collections.

I’m sending money towards my bill every month. Why did you send me to collections?
You must call a Financial Advocate at 406-447-2828 to set up an authorized payment plan. You can’t simply send money towards your bill at your own discretion. Call us. Financial Advocates are here to help you. They will work with you to get your bills paid within a plan that fits your financial situation.

Why didn’t my insurance cover this bill?

Unfortunately, insurance doesn’t cover everything. (Trust us, we wish it did.) Most insurance programs, for example, cover yearly mammograms. But “yearly” is a very specific term. Mammograms have to be performed a full 365 days apart. If you had your mammogram on day 364, most insurance won’t cover it. Many procedures have very specific criteria like this. How do you avoid this? See the next topic.

How do I make sure insurance will cover my procedure?
The answer is Preauthorization, and it’s important.
Before seeking a test or procedure, always contact your insurance company to make sure a preauthorization is granted. This is the patient’s duty. PET scans, CT scans, MRIs, therapies, some medications, infusions, sleep studies, and other scheduled procedures usually require preauthorization from your insurance company or else the patient may be responsible for the bill.

If you find that insurance won’t cover your procedure — or if you don’t have insurance — and you are concerned about how to pay for your procedure, call our Patient Advocates at 406-447-2828 to see if you may qualify for financial assistance.

I paid my bill. Why are you sending me another bill?
If a patient doesn’t pay their bill within 30 days, we will send monthly reminders. Sometimes your payment and the reminder get crossed in the mail. If you receive the reminder and it’s been within 10 days of when you sent your payment, you needn’t worry. Your payment probably hadn’t been posted by the time the reminder was sent. If you sent your payment more than ten days before you received the reminder, please call 406-447-2828 to check the status of your payment.

Paying online will decrease the chance of reminders being sent after you’ve made a payment.

Need more answers? Click on this link: https://www.stpetes.org/hospital/patient-family-visitor-services/billing-office/billing-faq




E-MAIL: mfrost@ktvh.com