Washington State judge rules that hospital broke law on patient collections

A judge in Washington State has concluded that Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center broke the law by pressing low-income patients for money before providing care, the Yakima Herald reported.

Yakima County Superior Court Judge Susan Hahn ruled that the hospital failed to comply with Washington's Charity Care Act by demanding upfront payments or deposits from low-income patients. The ruling stems from a class-action lawsuit filed two years ago on behalf of the region's indigent patients. 

At the time, Yakima Regional was owned by Florida-based Health Management Associates. It is now owned by Community Health Systems. Both companies are for-profit healthcare systems.

"It's a very, very good ruling for the class and for the plaintiffs," attorney Andrea Schmitt with Columbia Legal Services told the Yakima Herald. It is pursuing the suit in conjunction with a Seattle law firm.

Documents indicated that not only did the hospital lean on low-income patients to pay upfront, hospital employees could earn bonuses or be subject to discipline depending on how much money they were able to obtain in advance.

Such practices have proven to be fairly commonplace among hospitals in the U.S., whether they are owned by for-profit or not-for-profit organizations. Texas Health Resources taped phone calls with patients in order to improve the collections process. And Fairview Health Services in Minnesota used the firm Accretive Health to try and obtain advance payments to patients. That practice was eventually halted by the Minnesota Attorney General.

The Yakima Herald reported that in 2013, the hospital provided charity care worth about 1.45 percent of its total adjusted patient revenue. The average among hospitals in Central Washington is 4.4 percent of adjusted patient revenue.

To learn more:
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