‘Your Wallet’: Nebraska hospitals and patients struggle to cope with inflation

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – When the unexpected happens in life, a big medical bill could be a worrying thought.

And recently, inflation has increased the hardships for everyone.

But Bryan Health wants you to know help is available.

“We want to make sure that they’re comfortable coming to get care, even if they think they can’t afford it,” Chief Financial Officer Mike Dewerff said. “We would never want someone to not seek out care because they’re afraid they’re going to have a bill or something like that.”

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Every year, Bryan helps tens of thousands of patients with financial assistance. It offers financial counselors, free help with aid applications and discounts.

It also started a bank loan program three years ago that has seen significant growth. Bryan is on track to help over 4,000 patients this year.

“We partner with a local bank to provide an interest-free loan that we guarantee. There’s no cost to the patient,” Dewerff said. “We usually spread that out over six months or more, depending on the balance they owe. If they can’t make those payments, then it comes back to us, and we go back to working directly with the patient.”

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But as patients struggle with medical bills, half of Nebraska hospitals are operating in the red.

With rises in labor, supply, food and drug costs, the Nebraska Hospital Association says costs have gone up more than 20% per patient from pre-pandemic levels.

“Patients are struggling to pay the bills,” said Jeremy Nordquist, president of the association. “Hospitals are struggling with very small margins or even negative margins. About half of our hospital are running in the red.”

Labor Costs

At the same time, he said, United Healthcare made a $20 billion profit in 2022, its largest ever.

“It’s frustrating for hospital leaders to see that, to work with patients struggling to pay their bills and then to know the largest health insurance companies in America are banking record profits,” Nordquist said.

Both Bryan Health and the NHA are preparing for May 11, when the emergency declarations related to the pandemic expire.

Then, the state will start verifying income again to redetermine if people qualify for Medicaid.

And some may not qualify.

“I think there will be a little bit of a surprise for folks who maybe weren’t expecting that, so the first time they seek services, they might realize they’re not covered anymore,” Dewerff said.

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The NHA expects hospitals will see more uninsured patients again.

“It will be a hit to hospital finances as well,” Nordquist said.

They both say now is the time to prepare for that deadline by updating your information in the state portal called “Access Nebraska” and speaking with financial counselors.

If you’d like to learn more about the services offered by Bryan Health, click here: Financial Assistance or call 402-481-5791.

Editor’s note: This report is part of a weekly series Channel 8 is airing, called “Your Wallet.”  We’ll be looking into any topics that deal with your money. The reports air every Monday during the Channel 8 News at 6 p.m.

Categories: Health, Lancaster, Money, Nebraska News, News