Rigging Health Care’s Financial System Against Low-Income Patients
Did you know? Washington state law requires hospitals to let patients know about their option to receive charity health care, which can cover hospital expenses if patients lack the money to pay. The law says hospitals must notify patients that charity care is available and screen them for eligibility.
In September 2017, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma, alleging the hospital withheld charity care from tens of thousands of low-income patients since at least 2012. Instead, many patients were pressured to submit payment through deceptive and unfair practices — such as hospital employees allegedly being instructed not to volunteer information about the hospital’s charity care program or providing applications only if patients requested them.
Did Your Hospital In Washington Deny You Access To Charity Care You Were Eligible For?
This problem is not confined to a single hospital or health care system though; this breach of state law is occurring at hospitals throughout the state. Deaconess and Valley hospitals in Spokane are facing a lawsuit alleging to have failed to provide up to $110 million worth of charity care promised to low-income patients. And Yakima Regional Medical Center and Toppenish Community Hospital recently settled a lawsuit accusing them of withholding charity care last year. In fact, while the state hospital’s total revenues continue to climb, the percentage of charity care they offer from those revenues has steadily decreased.
Were You Denied Treatment Unfairly?
In Washington, people who earn less than 200% of the federal poverty level qualify for reduced bills for hospital care. For households earning less than 100% of federal poverty levels, hospitals must provide care at no charge. In addition, Washington hospitals cannot refuse to provide treatment to people who can’t pay for care.
Other ways health providers game the system included inflating the cost of the care they provide, requiring people who should have qualified for free care based on their income to pay thousands of dollars in deposits prior to surgery and so on. These practices aren’t merely unethical — they are illegal in the state of Washington. Medical services consumers have the right to take legal action in such cases.
We Can Help If Your Rights Were Violated
No one is asking hospitals to operate for free, only to live up to the promises they made to the state and its low-income residents. If you believe you have been the victim of charity care abuse, contact our law offices and speak with an attorney at Pfau Cochran Vertetis Amala PLLC in Seattle or Tacoma about your situation today. Send an email or call (206) 536-2850 or (253) 948-3199 today.