Carle tax trial, Day 8: Total charity-care applications from 2004-12: 112,980

Carle tax trial, Day 8: Total charity-care applications from 2004-12: 112,980

URBANA — Carle Foundation Hospital approved more applications for charity care than it denied over an eight-year period. But both the approvals and denials numbered in the 50,000 range.

Of the 53,223 denials for charity care the hospital tracked from 2004 to 2012, about 41,000 were based on two reasons: Either the patients picking up the applications never turned them back in, or they didn't supply information requested to verify their income, current and former Carle employees testified Friday.

Patricia Owens, Carle's former revenue cycle systems director, and Tearinee Boyd, a current Carle Medicare account representative, both answered questions about their former jobs dealing with Carle's charity-care program as the Carle Foundation's lawsuit against state and local taxing authorities continued for an eighth day. Carle sued over the denial of its charitable tax exemptions from 2004-11, and is seeking refunds on millions of dollars worth of property taxes it paid under protest for those years.

Boyd confirmed from internal documents she was shown that Carle also approved 59,757 applications for charity care from 2004-12, and the vast majority of the applicants — 52,152 of them — were awarded 100 percent discounts on hospital bills based on the patient's household size and household income.

Asked if she was ever given quotas for the numbers of charity-care approvals or denials in the years she processed the applications, Boyd replied, "Never."

A former employee at Frances Nelson Health Center, Boyd said that Champaign clinic's application for sliding-scale discounts didn't require some of the documents Carle did for charity care — among them the patient's recent income-tax statement or most recent bank-account statement.

Part of Owens' testimony was focused on the collection process when bills went unpaid. She recalled arrangements with two collection agencies at one time and that one was discontinued based on patient feedback.

"We never wanted a voice raised. We always wanted to be respectful," she said.

Patients who didn't pay their bills got a series of letters and a final phone call before they were turned over to collection, Owens said.

The hospital also employed firms that helped patients apply for Medicaid and charity care, according to Owens, who was also director of patient accounts before the last position she held with Carle. Getting uninsured patients covered through the state Medicaid system was better for both Carle and the patients, she said. It provided Carle with some payment and also meant patients had coverage for health services and medications they needed outside the hospital.

Before the nonprofit Carle Foundation bought the former for-profit Carle Clinic in 2010, Owens and Boyd said their departments fielded daily calls from people confusing bills they got from the clinic with hospital services, and Boyd said this happened hourly. Prior to its purchase by the Carle Foundation, the clinic didn't make charity care available.

Owens also said Carle hospital did a review of its chargemaster rates — the basic charges for various health services before insurance payer and other discounts are applied — once a year, and made changes either across the board or by department.

The trial is set to resume Monday. Among the first witnesses Carle's lawyers expect to call next week is Stan Jenkins, Champaign County's former supervisor of assessments.

Sections (2):News, Local