Assembly Approves Bill To Limit Hospital Charges for the Uninsured
The Assembly on Monday voted to approve a bill (SB 379) that would limit hospital charges for the uninsured, the Contra Costa Times reports (Silber, Contra Costa Times, 8/24).
The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento), 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 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, 7/6).
Under the bill, hospitals also would have to post charity care policies in waiting rooms and emergency departments. The bill will be presented to Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R) later this week. If approved, the law would be the first of its kind in the nation, the Times reports.
The Senate still is considering a similar bill (AB 232), the Times reports (Contra Costa Times, 8/24). The legislation, sponsored by Assembly member Wilma Chan (D-Oakland), would limit the amount hospitals are permitted to charge patients who lack health insurance. It 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.
In addition, the bill would require hospitals to notify patients of no-cost care options and limit the amount that they can charge low-income patients without health insurance. Under the Assembly legislation, hospitals would not be allowed to send bills to collection agencies until at least 180 days after patients are discharged (California Healthline, 7/6).
According to the Times, it is "unclear" whether Schwarzenegger will sign either bill, in part because the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development and the Department of Health Services oppose them. OSHPD says legislators should allow hospitals to implement billing guidelines for the uninsured that the hospital industry voluntarily adopted in February before creating additional mandates. DHS says SB 379 conflicts with Medicaid regulations.
Jan Emerson, spokesperson for the California Healthcare Association -- the hospital industry group that drafted the voluntary guidelines -- said, "We're committed that every hospital group will adopt these guidelines by the end of the calendar year." She said that some hospitals likely would adopt billing policies for the uninsured that are more expansive than the guidelines, while others would adopt less generous policies because of financial constraints, the Times reports.
Anthony Wright, director of consumer advocacy group Health Access, said, "The uninsured need statewide and enforceable standards to prevent hospital overcharging" (Contra Costa Times, 8/24).