Mugshot of Rep. Laurie Jinkins courtesy of Washington Legislature. Statehouse photo by Erin Fenner.

Bill that would highlight charity payment options for patients passes House with unanimous vote

A bill that would help patients identify charity assistance on their hospital billing statements passed the House unanimously Thursday.

According to the bill report, if passed into law it:

“Requires written and oral billing or collection communications related to a hospital bill to include a statement notifying patients of the hospital’s charity care policy and application.”

The bills, sponsored by Rep. Laurie Jinkins, D-Tacoma, largely is backed by Democrats. But, it’s sponsored by one Republican as well: Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver.

Emergency rooms are required to treat patients regardless of whether the patient can pay for the care. But that can create odd tensions when the hospital seeks payment from patients who can’t afford the treatment. This bill, according to the bill report, seeks to provide clearer options for payment to patients who can’t afford treatment they need. It requires hospitals to clearly show how patients can seek assistance in paying for care.

According to the bill report:

“Hospitals are required to notify a person who may be eligible for charity care. Notice that charges for indigent persons may be waived or reduced must be: (1) prominently displayed in the public areas of the hospital; (2) provided to the individual in writing and explained at the time the hospital requests information regarding the availability of third-party coverage, in any language spoken by more than ten percent of the population in the hospital’s service area; and (3) interpreted for other non-English speaking patients, limited-English speaking patients, or other patients who cannot read or understand the writing and explanation.”

The bill shows exactly what type of language hospitals would be required to show patients. Again, here’s what the bill report says:

“The following statement must be included in all written and oral billing or collection communications related to a hospital bill: “Depending on income, you may qualify for a discount for some or all of your hospital bill. Contact the hospital now and ask for a charity care application.”

The written statement must be prominently set out at the beginning of the document in at least twelve-point font and be in bold font as indicated. The written statement must also be translated into both English and Spanish, and other languages and alternative formats when the need to do so is reasonably known.”

If the bill passes the Senate and gets the governor’s signature, it will take effect October 1, 2017.

Erin Fenner: erin@washingtonstatewire.com, @erinfenner

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