Connie Frederick was devastated when she was diagnosed with cancer, and her fears increased when she learned that her insurance only covered a small portion of the costs of her treatment. “We didn’t know how we would pay all the bills,” says Frederick, who works part time at a department store and whose husband Bill is unable to work due to back problems.
Her doctor referred Frederick to a financial counselor at Rush University Medical Center, who determined that she was eligible for its charity care program. Most of the costs of her treatment at Rush were waived, including expenses associated with months of chemotherapy to treat Frederick’s early-stage fallopian tube cancer, the rarest form of gynecologic cancer.
Today, Frederick’s cancer is gone, her prognosis is excellent, and she has returned to work. “If it wasn’t for everyone at Rush, we don’t know what we would have done,” she says.
Frederick is one of the 2,225 patients who received assistance through Rush’s charity care program last year. During fiscal year 2009, Rush provided more than $16 million in charity care and financial assistance for our patients.
Many of the people in the charity care program already are established patients at Rush whose circumstances have changed. “With the economy being the way it is, a lot of our patients have lost their jobs and no longer have health insurance. They may be in the middle of cancer treatment or some other ongoing treatment, and they’re facing a continuation of care issue,” says Stephanie M. Young, who helped Connie Frederick access the charity care program. A financial counselor in admitting until August, Young now assists patients at Rush as a patient access coordinator with Affiliated Radiologists.
Other patients may face financial challenges because their insurance has deductibles that are greater than their means, such as seniors with limited incomes, or they may be employed but unable to afford the cost of their employer’s health insurance plan.
The four financial counselors in admitting help patients enroll in the charity care program. They review each patient’s financial information and insurance and look for ways to help. If a patient qualifies for Illinois Medicaid, the health insurance plan offered through the Illinois Department of Public Aid, a counselor will explain to the patient how to enroll in the program.
A patient whose household income is too high to qualify for Medicaid but is less than four times the federal poverty guidelines qualifies to have some or all of their hospital expenses covered through Rush’s charity care program. For example, a single person who makes no more than $32,490 a year is eligible for the program’s full coverage, and a single individual who makes less than $43,332 a year qualifies for the 70 percent coverage.
Understandably, patients are anxious when they meet with a financial counselor. In addition to helping them with financial issues, the financial counselors help ease their minds. “We assure them that Rush is here for them, that we’re here to help them and not turn them away just because they don’t have insurance or aren’t able to pay,” Young says. “We explain to them that we understand they have the need for services.”
While the circumstances that cause a patient to need the help of the charity care program vary widely, Young has found that the patients she helps have one thing in common. “They’re adamant about getting services at Rush,” she says. “They all say the same thing, that Rush has the best doctors, the best facility. The underlying concern in every patient encounter is they want to receive their services here.”
Young takes deep satisfaction in having helped patients receive that care through the charity care program. “It’s a wonderful program. You could actually see the fear removed from a patient’s face because they knew they were going to be taken care of. It changed their tears into smiles of gratitude,” she says. “I saw it over and over again, and that’s an amazing thing to be a part of.”