Charity Care Abuse
Rigging Healthcare’s Financial System Against Low-Income Patients
Washington state law requires hospitals to let patients know about their option to receive charity health care, which can cover hospital expenses if patients lack the money to pay. The law says hospitals must notify patients that charity care is available and screen them for eligibility.
In September 2017, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, alleging the hospital withheld charity care from tens of thousands of low-income patients since at least 2012. Instead, many patients were pressured to submit payment through deceptive and unfair practices – practices such as hospital employees allegedly being instructed not to volunteer information about the hospital’s charity care program or providing applications only if patients requested them.
This problem is not confined to a single hospital or healthcare system though; this breach of state law is occurring at hospitals throughout the state. Deaconess and Valley hospitals in Spokane are facing a lawsuit alleging to have failed to provide up to $110 million worth of charity care promised to low-income patients. And Yakima Regional Medical Center and Toppenish Community Hospital recently settled a lawsuit accusing them of withholding charity care last year. In fact, while state hospital’s total revenues continue to climb, the percentage of charity care they offer from those revenues has steadily decreased.
In Washington, people who earn less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level qualify for reduced bills for hospital care. For households earning less than 100 percent of federal poverty levels, hospitals must provide care at no charge.
In addition, Washington hospitals cannot refuse to provide treatment to people who can’t pay for care.
Other ways health providers game the system included inflating the cost of the care they provide, requiring people who should have qualified for free care based on their income to pay thousands of dollars in deposits prior to surgery, etc. These practices aren’t merely unethical – they are illegal in the State of Washington.
No one is asking hospitals to operate for free, only to live up to the promises they made to the state and its low-income residents. If you believe you have been the victim of charity care abuse, contact our law offices and speak with an attorney about your situation today.