Bill Would Require Hospitals To Limit Fees for Uninsured, Check Patient Eligibility for Public Health Programs
Sen. Deborah Ortiz (D-Sacramento) has proposed a bill (SB 1394) that would limit the fees hospitals can charge people who are uninsured, as well as require hospitals to inform patients of their charity care policies and check if patients are eligible for public insurance programs, the Los Angeles Times reports. Ortiz introduced the measure to address the situation of uninsured residents who cannot afford to pay for hospital care out of pocket but earn too much to qualify for discounted treatment rates that hospitals give to public health programs and insurance companies. The issue of hospital fees charged to the uninsured has "gained traction" since a group of uninsured Latinos in February sued Tenet Healthcare Corp., the nation's second-largest hospital chain, alleging that Tenet hospitals overcharged poor and uninsured Latinos as "part of a scheme to take advantage" of additional federal funds hospitals receive for providing charity care. Speaking yesterday at a news conference in support of the legislation, Anthony Wright, organizing director of the consumer group Health Access, said, "Right now, hospitals bill the uninsured the highest possible rate, which is overwhelmingly unaffordable. These bills get sent to collections and ruin the financial futures of these families, and the hospitals get nothing." Ortiz added, "We really need to have (hospitals) step forward and do more. Hospitals ought not to bear 100% of the social problem that we're facing. I think they could do better, however, by increasing their percentages of providing charity care." California hospitals spend an average of 1% of their operating expenses on charity care, and many hospitals do not offer charity care at all, according to an analysis by the Consumers Union.
However, Jan Emerson, a spokesperson for the California Healthcare Association, a hospital trade group, said that "all hospitals" provide "some degree" of charity care, although "some don't report it properly." Defeating the legislation is the hospital industry's "top priority this year," the Times reports. "We're all-out opposed to [the bill]," Emerson said. She noted that hospitals already attempt to enroll uninsured patients in public health programs or set up payment schedules, as long as the patients provide proper documentation of their lack of insurance. However, many patients do not provide such information, Emerson said, adding, "So, the only way that a hospital has to engage [a patient] is through a billing process and, unfortunately, sometimes a collections process. That's not our goal" (Ornstein, Los Angeles Times, 4/3).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.