Consumer Advocates Praise Mississippi Hospital System’s Decision to Provide Free Health Care to the Uninsured
Community Catalyst urges other hospitals to follow the lead of Mississippi
Boston, MA, August 6, 2004. North Mississippi Hospital Services (NMHS) deserves credit for showing national leadership in its new financial assistance policy for the uninsured that was announced yesterday. Where other hospitals – and the industry’s own association – have issued only vague principles and guidelines on hospitals’ obligation to provide services for those who can’t afford care, NMHS has committed to some very concrete terms that will make an enormous difference to the health and well-being of the people of Mississippi.
NMHS’s promise to provide free care to individuals and families with incomes under 200% of the federal poverty level is significant. Additionally, its decision to base hospital bills on Medicare rates, which are substantially lower than the “list prices” hospitals have been charging the uninsured up to this point, represents a substantial breakthrough. Finally, NMHS’s commitment to limit any collection efforts to no more than 10% of a patient’s annual income in a given year, is a critical protection for those individual and families who are already struggling financially.
As good as many of the terms are, there are some gaps. “We are concerned that the agreement doesn’t extend financial relief to those who are underinsured. With health insurance premiums continuing to rise, we’re seeing an acceleration in the number of people whose coverage has very high deductibles and substantial co-insurance payments,” said Betsy Stoll, Director at Development and Policy at Community Catalyst. “And the individuals who are most at risk with this type of policy are those who need coverage the most – people with serious or chronic illnesses.”
“Advocates of market-driven health care – who are bolstered by current federal policy– applaud this trend because they believe it makes the consumer more cost-conscious when seeking health care. The reality, though, is that people who are in poor health don’t have a lot of choice about whether or not to get health care. As out-of-pocket costs increase, the underinsured will require the same kind of financial assistance that the uninsured do,” Stoll continued.
Despite its flaws, the NMHS agreement is a promising model for other hospitals and hospital systems across the country. The national crisis in health care access is not for the hospital industry to solve by itself, but many hospitals could be doing more than they are to contribute to solutions. What NMHS has just demonstrated through its new policy is that leadership can come from within the industry. We urge other hospitals to follow its lead.
Since 1999 Community Catalyst has worked with local health advocates across the country who are pressing hospitals to adopt community responsive charity care policies. For more information on hospital free care, including Community Catalyst’s Patient Financial Assistance Principles and its comprehensive report on hospital free care, Not There When You Need It: The Search for Free Hospital Care, visit: www.communitycatalyst.org.
Community Catalyst (www.communitycatalyst.org) is a national advocacy organization that builds consumer and community participation in the shaping of our health system to ensure quality, affordable health care for all.