ST. LOUIS -

A health system with hospitals in Missouri, Illinois, Oklahoma and Wisconsin is working with a bank to offer interest-free loans to patients with unpaid medical bills.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reports that $6.5 million has been lent to about 4,000 patients since SSM Health Care inked a deal with Commerce Bank five months ago. Patients get the loans without undergoing credit checks and Commerce Bank receives a service fee.

The goal is to reduce the health system's bad debt, which grew from $157 million in 2012 to $204.7 million in 2013.

Hospitals have long worked out payment plans with patients in-house. But Paul Sahney of SSM Health Care says his hospitals aren't positioned to effectively manage monthly payments from patients like banks already do with home and car loans.