ST. JOSEPH'S HOSPITAL WANTS CASH C0-PAYS - Up Front Payment For Non-Emergency Admissions

If you go to private-for-profit St. Joseph Hospital in Parkersburg for non-emergency room care, you'd better get ready to ante up some some cash for a co-payment.

Four HCA West Virginia hospitals, part of a 191 chain, have been ordered by their CEO to collect at least partial payment of insurance co-payments and deductibles before providing non-emergency care.

The Nashville-based company, the nation's largest for-profit hospital chain, owns St. Francis Hospital in Charleston, Putnam General Hospital in Hurricane, Raleigh General Hospital in Beckley and St. Joseph's Hospital in Parkersburg.

HCA says when a patient can't pay the full co-payment amount, the hospitals should have a method of figuring a minimum down payment.

While an estimated 50 million Americans have no insurance and millions of others are under-insured, the HCA policy is directed toward individuals who do have insurance coverage, a method commonly known as cost-shifting, or paying for those who don't or can't pay.

There is a nationwide trend of unpaid hospital bills, which costs hospitals billions of dollars every year.

HCA has reported that first-quarter earnings fell 26 percent from a year ago because it treated more patients unable to pay their hospital bills.