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Boston, MA, November 1, 2005. Portland, OR-based Providence Health System (Providence) deserves credit for settling a lawsuit that challenged its billing and collection practices on terms that will provide a new level of financial and medical protection to some uninsured Oregon families. The settlement, which was announced today, provides that for the next two years, Providence will offer income-based discounts to uninsured Oregon residents who live in Providence’s service areas and obtain care at Providence’s hospitals. For those with incomes at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, care will be provided for free.
Media stories and similar lawsuits in other parts of the country have exposed a common hospital industry practice of charging the highest rates to those who can least afford it – the uninsured. “Providence’s agreement to use the rates it charges to some private insurance plans as the basis for what it charges the uninsured is a major step forward,” said Betsy Stoll, Director of Development and Policy for Community Catalyst. “Our organization has been monitoring hospital billing practices across the country for a number of years now, and it’s good to see a system like Providence respond to community realities.”
While the discounts have been positively received by local consumer health activists like the Oregon Health Action Campaign, they are rightly concerned that the settlement does not address some of the other pressing issues that individuals and families are forced to deal with when illness strikes. It does not, for example, make discounts available to the under-insured. As health insurance premiums continue to rise, the number of people whose coverage includes high deductibles and co-payments is accelerating. 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– love this increase in out-of-pocket expenses because they think 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 their out-of-pocket costs increase, the underinsured will require the same kind of financial assistance that the uninsured do,” said Community Catalyst’s Stoll.
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: http://www.communitycatalyst.org/.
Community Catalyst (http://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.