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Colorado health systems face media scrutiny over medical bills

As patients carry more financial responsibility, health systems nationwide face the potential for bad press.

Jeff Lagasse, Associate Editor

The University of Colorado Hospital. (via <a href="https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:University_of_Colorado_Hospital.JPG">Wikipedia</a>)The University of Colorado Hospital. (via Wikipedia)

Hospital systems in Colorado are responding to media criticism over their billing practices, telling representatives of 9News in Kusa that a number of different factors are contributing to a complex billing experience.

The news station had invited viewers to email copies of their medical bills to give reporters an idea of what consumers were dealing with when it came to billing practices. The station then invited a number of health systems to their newsroom to answer on-air questions based on patients' complaints.

[Also: Picking up the bill: Healthcare leaders look to fix the patient financial experience]

No one showed up, and 9News broadcast a piece showing a conference room that was empty save for light snacks and water.

Four systems -- Centura Health, Health One, SCL Health and UCHealth -- collaborated on a written response to the piece, telling reporters they understood patients' concerns and were continually working to improve and learn from best practices.

The systems said that healthcare is one of the most highly regulated industries in the country, and that the complex billing process is largely a product of federal law, state regulations, industry standards and insurance regulations and contracting.

"In recent years, the insurance market has shifted to more high-deductible plans, which can offer lower premiums while placing far greater financial burdens on patients when they need care," the systems wrote. "Many patients are unaware of this shift and of the specifics surrounding their current coverage."

[Also: This is not a bill: Insurers give explanations of benefits a facelift]

The letter encouraged patients to contact their insurer before they seek care to understand their financial responsibility, and implored them to research and understand an insurance plan before signing up. The letter also suggested patients consider health savings accounts or flexible savings accounts to help plan for potential medical bills.

"We ask that 9News encourage its viewers to act as advocates for their health and to ask questions," the systems wrote.

A spokesman for UCHealth said on Tuesday the system has agreed to do an on-air interview with 9News, to be broadcast next week.

Twitter: @JELagasse

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