LEWISTON — Starting May 1, Central Maine Medical Center, its affiliate hospitals and doctors’ offices will no longer discount health insurance co-pays when paid upfront.

For the past year or two, according to spokesman Chuck Gill, the hospital group has offered small discounts when patients paid co-pays during their visit. For a $20 co-pay, that savings usually amounted to a couple of dollars.

The hospital group, which includes Bridgton and Rumford hospitals, originally started the discount program to give patients an incentive to pay immediately, allowing the hospital to avoid the cost of billing. But Gill said the discount itself became “a kind of administrative burden.”

“It was a headache to do it, actually,” he said.

Gill said the hospital group also can’t afford to discount co-pays anymore. Charity care and bad debt have increased by millions of dollars in the past year, he said. The hospital group must pay a $3 million assessment from the state in the coming months, and by June the state will owe it $61 million in back MaineCare reimbursements, he said.

“When you have more cash you can do that (discount),” he said.

Gill said the hospital group is committed to keeping costs down for all patients. He pointed to a statewide hospital cost comparison report by Onpoint Health Data that shows CMMC, Bridgton and Rumford hospitals have patient costs below state average. The report looked at 2010 commercial claims and did not include Medicare or Medicaid data. 

“We’re trying to lower our costs for everybody,” he said.

It’s unclear how common co-pay discounts are in Maine. The Maine Hospital Association doesn’t track the issue, though spokeswoman Becky Schnur said co-pays take time and resources to bill, so some hospitals may find discounts an attractive way to encourage patients to pay upfront.

In 2010, St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center in Lewiston began discounting co-pays 20 percent for that reason. It plans to continue.

“It’s a kind of win-win for both the patient and the hospital,” St. Mary’s spokeswoman Jennifer Radel said. “It’s one less bill we have to send out.”

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