Lawsuit claims two Wash. hospitals violated state law on charity care

A lawsuit filed this week accuses two Washington state hospitals of violating state law by neglecting charity care, the Yakima Herald-Republic reports.

The lawsuit alleges that 63-bed Toppenish Community Hospital and 214-bed Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center discouraged patients from seeking charity care and shifted the burden to other hospitals in the area. The lawsuit cites large discrepancies between the number of charity cases at the two hospitals and others nearby. For example, the article states, Regional had 385 charity care cases in 2011, while Yakima Valley Memorial Hospital had 28,503.

Regional and Toppenish Community are both owned by Naples, Fla.-based Health Management Associates, which is the named defendant in the lawsuit. The named plaintiff, Angela Lopez, was referred for a hysterectomy by her physician, and without health insurance, was told by Regional she would have to pay a $1,000 down payment. Lopez's husband David claims in the lawsuit that they were never told that the charity care program was an option, according to the article.

The lawsuit alleges that the hospitals violated Washington's Charity Care Act, which requires that at least partial charity care be made available to any patient whose income is up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and full charity care for incomes of 100 percent of the poverty level or less. State law also requires hospitals to make a determination of a patient's eligibility for charity care before requiring payment, and forbids requiring deposits from anyone found to be eligible, according to the Herald-Republic.

Until May, according to the article, Toppenish Community and Regional were the only hospitals in the state that had no charity care policy on file.

Healthcare reform means hospitals could see higher payments for charity care, but also see an influx of high-use patients, leading to increased costs and exhausted resources, FierceHealthFinance previously reported.

To learn more:
- read the article
- here's the charity care law