Hide and seek with free hospital care

Hospitals say they do a lot of charity care. Who benefits from it? Two local groups surveyed 99 randomly selected hospitals about how they make patient aware of the charity care.  

The survey found that while most hospitals mentioned the existence of charity care programs on either their websites or over the telephone, only about a quarter provided information regarding eligibility for charity care.  Fewer than half provided a charity care application form. Fewer than 1 in 10 provided information on their websites that listed the discounts available to people at different income levels.

 This is how that played out for one patient, according to a press release on the report The Access Project and Community Catalyst. 

 Dawn D’Amico, who sought care at a hospital in Pennsylvania, found out about the existence of charity care programs through an article in a local newspaper.  When she called her hospital to ask for help, staff denied that the hospital offered charity care.  She only succeeded in getting a charity care application after directing hospital staff to an article on the Web.  She said, “If hospitals are being awarded tax breaks for providing these programs, someone needs to make sure they are actually doing so.  I just can’t imagine how many other people were denied care that they desperately needed.”

 The American Hospital Association  told NPR and Kaiser Health News that the sample is too small to be meaningful.

 A survey of 99 hospitals is not convincing to us,” says Melinda Hatton, the industry association’s general counsel. “And it’s out of sync: The concerns at the heart of the report have been dealt with in the health care reform bill, which we supported.”

 She didn’t mention that the group opposed the charity care rules in the bill, according to the Kaiser/NPR report  

 As the health care overhaul legislation made its way through Congress, the association said that new rules on charity care being considered in the legislation were not necessary. In a January letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, the group urged Congress to drop the requirements, or at least the parts requiring regular reports to Congress on charity-care levels. Such reports, the association warned, would be costly for hospitals and were duplicative of other reports by the Congressional Budget Office and the Government Accountability Office.

 While on the AHA website, check out their response to the Mass AG’s report on health care costs. (Both are .pdf files.) Again, the group questions the reports’ methodology.

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