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Shriners Hospitals to start charging

MINNEAPOLIS, July 24 (UPI) -- Shriners Hospitals is ending its practice of free medical care for children in Minneapolis and across the nation, officials said.

By the end of July, all 20 Shriners Hospitals will bill insurance companies and charge families that can afford it co-payments, ending 89 years of free care, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

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Shriners officials said the change is required because donations are flat and because the organization's endowment fund took a major hit during the recession.

Shriners Hospital for Children-Twin Cities, a 40-bed orthopedics hospital in Minneapolis, started billing insurers in April as part of the nationwide rollout.

"We're not a poor organization," said Doug Maxwell, president and chief executive officer of Shriners Hospitals for Children, based in Tampa, Fla. "But if we don't make wise decisions now, we won't last."

Those without insurance will still be covered at no cost. The federal government will also allow the organization to waive co-pays and deductibles for Medicare and Medicaid patients, which comprise about 40 percent of its patient pool, the report said.

Shriners said the billing would cover less than half of the hospitals' operating costs.

"Insurance payments are not going to replace those funding sources," Lobeck said. "But they do enable us to reach out to more kids, offer more services and continue to have specialized programs that aren't always funded by health plans and traditional medicine."

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