IL bill capping hospital fees to uninsured may fail

In Illinois, it was looking as though the legislature was about to pass landmark hospital pricing legislation, a measure that would cap fees to uninsured hospital patients as well as giving patients up to a fairly high income level discounts on their care and a ceiling on how much they would spend per year. The bill came together after a year or more of negotiation between interested parties, including the Illinois Hospital Association, and passed both houses. However, it's now looking like the bill may not pass anytime soon, since Gov. Rod Blagojevich vetoed the it with several amendments that expand its scope substantially.

As written, the bill would have provided discounts on bills and caps on annual hospital spending to about 775,000 families in the state. It would have required the state's hospitals to charge most patients without insurance actual costs plus a 35 percent markup, rather than two to three times the actual cost as is common now. Gov. Blagojevich cut the 35 percent to 20 percent, and required that patients earning less than 200 percent of the poverty level, or $42,400 for a family of four, wouldn't pay any markup at all.

The governor also changed the income levels at which discounts would kick in, changes that hospitals suggested would make virtually every uninsured patient in the state eligible for assistance. In the original version, urban families earning up to 600 percent of the federal poverty level, or $127,200 for a family of four, would have qualified for hospital discounts and the annual hospital spending cap. Blagojevich raised the earnings limit for discounts and caps to 800 percent, or $169,600, while for rural families, he raised the eligibility level from 300 percent, or $63,600 for a family of four, to 600 percent.

The bill's sponsors plan to refile a measure with the original terms, though the changes may mean that it won't be considered until next year.

To learn more about the bill:
- read this Chicago Tribune piece

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