Hospitals Accused of Billing the Poor Instead of Using Charity Care

“Washington’s attorney general filed lawsuits against hospitals in Tacoma and Olympia last month, accusing them of withholding charity care from thousands of low-income patients,” the Spokesman-Review reports.

The suits say low-income patients at St. Joseph Medical Center in Tacoma and Capital Medical Center in Olympia were subjected to aggressive tactics, such as being required to pay hundreds of dollars before they could have surgeries. The patients weren’t told they could be eligible for free or reduced-cost care, as required by state law.

The litigation follows a similar lawsuit filed in June against the former owner of two Spokane-area hospitals: Deaconess and Valley.

Empire Health Foundation sued Tennessee-based Community Health Systems, alleging the for-profit hospital chain failed to provide up to $110 million worth of charity care promised to patients during its tenure in Spokane.

Washington state law requires hospitals to provide charity care to people who are near the federal poverty level. Hospitals must alert patients verbally and in writing about the availability of charity care and screen patients for eligibility before attempting to collect payment.

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