Hospitals Inconsistent in Providing Cost, Charity Care Information
Hospitals do not consistently disclose pricing and charity care policies, according to a study by the California HealthCare Foundation, the Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal reports. The study is scheduled for release on Thursday.
In the study, 622 "mystery shoppers" pretended to be low-income, uninsured patients at visits to 64 hospitals. The patients, who visited hospitals between April and August, were told to ask the cost of a specific elective procedure, whether financial assistance was available and under what terms, and whether the hospital posted notices about financial assistance programs.
According to the Business Journal, the study found that 7.3% of the acting patients who visited the hospital in person were offered information about available financial assistance or charity care and that about 45% of hospitals had one or no posted notices detailing charity care policies. There were "no detectable differences" among the hospitals by size, region or status as a not-for-profit or for-profit facility, the Business Journal reports.
Maribeth Shannon, director of the Hospitals and Nursing Homes Program at CHCF, said the study results show hospitals "aren't ready to be retail environments" and "even if a hospital has adopted charity care guidelines, it didn't translate to front-line staff."
Anthony Wright, executive director of Health Access California, said the study is "simple proof" that voluntary billing guidelines developed by the California Hospital Association last year "don't work and that we need stronger consumer protections passed by the Legislature." Health Access is supporting AB 774, which would impose specific charity care policies on hospitals.
CHA spokesperson Jan Emerson said, "Do we still have a ways to go? Yes, our own surveys show that." She added, "But we are making progress" (Cutland, Silicon Valley/San Jose Business Journal, 12/9).