ST. CLOUD -- The Affordable Care Act is helping reduce the amount of money hospitals are paying through their financial assistance policies, also known as charity care.

CentraCare Health spokeswoman Kathy Parsons says St. Cloud Hospital is seeing a decline in how much financial assistance lower-income patients need...

They have coverage, but they might have a high deductible plan and they have trouble paying that deductible. They may have coverage then after the deductible is met.

Parsons says bad debt also factors into the equation -- patients who accrue bills but don't pay them. She says the bad debt has been flat or declining slightly as insured patients have smaller bills to pay than non-insured patients.

We see more people with self-paid balances, but they're smaller so they've been able to pay them. You know, we still certainly have bad debt and we have financial assistance. Those things will always exist, but with the Affordable Care Act it has provided coverage which has helped reduce how much of that there is. There may be more people who get financial assistance but it's smaller dollar amounts because that's all that they need.

Parsons says they've increased their prevention programs in recent years to try to promote healthy lifestyles and avoid chronic illnesses.