Almost Half of Hospitals Not Meeting Voluntary Charity Care Guidelines, Survey Finds
Almost half of hospitals in California do not follow voluntary industry guidelines for assisting uninsured residents, according to a survey released Thursday by advocacy group Health Access California, the Sacramento Bee reports. Researchers surveyed 40 hospitals and found that almost half did not post signs indicating charity care policies to assist low-income and uninsured patients, requirements included in measures adopted in February by the California Healthcare Association.
Health Access officials said the survey indicates that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) should sign a measure (SB 379) sponsored by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) that would set mandatory charity care guidelines (Evans, Sacramento Bee, 9/17).
The bill would require hospitals to disclose charity care policies to the state and allow state regulators to establish rules guiding hospital billing policies for the uninsured. The bill also would prohibit hospital bills from being sent to collection agencies for 150 days following treatment and prohibit families with annual incomes that do not exceed 400% of the federal poverty level from being billed at rates that exceed those paid by Medi-Cal, Medicare or workers' compensation. In addition, hospitals would be barred from placing liens on patients' homes or using some other collection practices (California Healthline, 8/24).
Health Access Director Anthony Wright said, "As an industry, hospitals are continuing their abuse of collections and billing practices and their attempts at reform have fallen short and that's why we need the enforceable standards."
Jan Emerson -- a spokesperson for CHA, which opposes the bill -- called the legislation a "one-size-fits-all solution." Emerson said, "It's a little bit disingenuous to expect a policy to be developed in February and to immediately implement it for something as complex as changing all our billing procedures for the uninsured. We're not as far along as any of us would like to be ... but we've always said this is going to take a little bit of time" (Sacramento Bee, 9/17).