Advocacy Group Report Criticizes Sutter Health Debt Collection Practices
Advocacy group Health Access on Thursday is expected to release a report accusing Sutter Health of "using aggressive debt-collection practices" and "discriminat[ing] against the uninsured" with its billing system, the Sacramento Bee reports. According to Health Access, Sutter's collection agencies took legal action against almost 300 patients in Sacramento County last year, and the health system spent just 0.6% of revenue on charity care, compared with a statewide average of 1% for private hospitals. Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access, said the group compiled the report on Sutter "in part to pressure" lawmakers and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) to overhaul hospital billing practices, according to the Bee. In particular, Health Access wants Sutter and other hospital chains to support a bill (AB 232), sponsored by Assembly member Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), that would limit how much hospitals can charge the uninsured (Rapaport, Sacramento Bee, 4/15). The bill would require hospitals to provide charity care or offer discounts in some cases to people whose annual incomes are as much as 700% of the federal poverty level, require hospitals to notify patients of free care options and limit the amount that hospitals can charge low-income patients without health insurance (California Healthline, 2/12).
"Hospitals say they have cleaned up their act. But we need to see clear evidence of that. We can't rely on voluntary industry guidelines to protect patients," Wright said, adding, "We need strong mandatory rules that say working people who are poor or uninsured will not be ruined by hospital bills they cannot pay." Sarah Krevans, CEO of Sutter's Sacramento region, said the company's two hospitals in Sacramento County -- Sutter General Hospital and Sutter Memorial Hospital -- gave free or discounted care to 10% of all patients last year. She said that Sutter recently adopted new charity care guidelines under which uninsured patients with annual incomes that do not exceed 200% of the federal poverty level, or $37,000 for a family of four, receive free care and those with annual incomes that do not exceed 400% of the federal poverty level, or $75,400 per year for a family of four, receive discounts. "To our knowledge, this is one of the most generous charity care policies in the nation," Krevans added. Jan Emerson, a spokesperson for the California Healthcare Association, said, "No uninsured person should lose their house or file for bankruptcy because of a hospital bill. But people who can pay a portion of their bills also need to take a personal responsibility for working with the hospitals to do that" (Sacramento Bee, 4/15).This is part of the California Healthline Daily Edition, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.