Health care providers cut federal workers a break

Several area health care providers are offering discounts to furloughed federal employees.

Hackensack Meridian Health, a 17-hospital New Jersey health system, said it will waive furloughed federal employees’ out-of-pocket payments, such as copays and deductibles, for emergency and urgent care visits. The health system’s facilities stretch from Bergen to Ocean County. The offer will apply to all family members who are insured through the affected government employee’s policy.

The shutdown, which reached day 28 on Friday, is the longest in U.S. history and affects 800,000 federal employees, some of whom will not be paid until the government is funded. About 5,000 federal employees are New Jersey residents, Hackensack Meridian said.

Federal workers are still covered through the Federal Employees Health Benefits program during the shutdown, Kaiser Health News reported. But some could struggle to pay copays.

Copays and deductibles are set by insurance payers, typically health plans or employers, but hospitals and doctors can opt not to collect the payments. Hackensack Meridian CEO Robert Garrett said the health system worked with insurers and its legal team to implement the policy, which went into effect Friday morning.

“We thought this was least we could do,” Garrett said. “If they need emergency care or urgent care, it’s one less thing they need to worry about.”

Garrett said more local health systems should consider waiving federal employees’ payments.

Asked why this type of offer is not extended to any person who loses a job, Garrett said, “These are folks that are supporting our nation in different ways, and we want to support them in their time of need.”

In Westchester County, Westmed Medical Group said it is allowing federal employees affected by the shutdown extra time to make out-of-pocket payments. They are still billing patients but won’t require payments at the time of the medical visit and will defer collection of pending balances.

“We want people to have uninterrupted access to quality care, particularly in times of hardship,” said Anthony Viceroy, CEO of Westmed Medical Group, which has about 500 doctors in Westchester, Fairfield County in Connecticut and Manhattan.

Mayor Bill de Blasio said the city will lose $500 million in federal support each month, starting March 1, if the shutdown continues. Programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program food stamps, free school meals, Section 8 rental assistance and aid to the New York City Housing Authority would be in jeopardy.

SOURCE: Section Page News – Crain’s New York Business – Read entire story here.