A new program through Inova Health Systems offers uninsured patients a 35 percent discount on all hospital costs. The program began in January of this year but had not been announced to the general public until last week.
“We just wanted to make people aware of this new program,” said Edgar Rivera, a community division coordinator with Tenants’ and Workers’ Support Committee (TWSC). “We have been working with Inova on behalf of under-insured and uninsured people for about four years and this shows a real commitment on their part to work with people in the communities they serve.”
The program will benefit people like Maria Lopez, a single mother of three who has no health insurance.
“This program will help us a lot,” she said. “We never know when we are going to have to go to the emergency room or need some type of medical care. I have no health insurance and no money to pay for any type of emergency that might happen to me or my children. I appreciate this program very much and know that many people will use it,” she said.
Rivera estimates that about 10,000 people in the Northern Virginia region will take advantage of Inova’s discounted care. According to TWSC, prior to this new policy, the medically uninsured were the only Inova patients who were paying full price as insurance companies and the federal government have negotiated major discounts with healthcare providers.
“IN JANUARY, 2004, Inova Health System, a not-for-profit healthcare system in Northern Virginia instituted a policy to provide a 35 percent discount to patients with no health insurance,” said Beth Visioli, a media relations specialist with Inova. “This policy is in concert with recent clarification provided by the Department of Health and Human Services regarding the Medicare program rules, which allowed hospitals to offer such discounts. It is a separate policy from our charity care policy, which remains consistent and unchanged," said Visioli.
“Throughout Inova’s history, we have had a long-term commitment to serve the people of Fairfax County, regardless of their ability to pay. We are proud of our mission to provide healthcare to all members of our community. In 2003, Inova incurred costs of more than $100 million in uncompensated care to uninsured and under-insured patients.
“The problem of 45 million uninsured Americans is an issue of national public policy. It is an issue that must be decided at the national level, not at the state or local level. We want to work on behalf of all Northern Virginians, and indeed all Americans, to create the public discussion that will help solve this problem,” Visioli said.
LINDA PELLEGRINO of Mt. Vernon has not found Inova to be helpful in resolving her problem. “Since my husband died, my only source of income is disability,” she said. “I went to the hospital on a number of occasions for different types of treatment and I had no insurance. The way it works, you have to have a bill of $2,000 before you can get Medicaid. I told the people at Inova that I was low income and that I was disabled and I asked to fill out a form to get the state or federal funding that the hospital gets for people like me.
"I was told on two separate occasions that they didn’t know what I was talking about. These people are paid to know about these programs and it is their responsibility to make this funding available to people like me,” she said.
Pellegrino said that Inova took her to court on two occasions and that the issue has yet to be resolved. Visioli heard Pellegrino’s story and offered to get her in touch with someone who could work with her.
“We have found Inova to be responsive to dealing with some of these issues,” Rivera said. “Since we began working with them, they have forgiven $400,000 in debt to under-insured patients. This is a very positive response.”
Visioli said that anyone who identifies themselves as uninsured, and can prove it, will be given the 35 percent discount. “We have posters regarding our charity care programs in our lobby and in the emergency room. They are in English and Spanish and give telephone numbers where patients can contact counselors. These counselors will help them fill out applications for Medicare and Medicaid and all other programs that are available,” Visioli said.