Last week, the Colorado State Senate passed an important bill on a bipartisan vote to help uninsured Coloradans who might get stuck with unwieldy hospital bills. Senate Bill 50 (SB50) clears up the law on financial assistance for uninsured patients who get necessary care at a Colorado hospital.

In 2012, CCHI and the Colorado Center on Law and Policy (CCLP) led an effort to pass SB12-134, a bill to ensure each Colorado hospital offers financial assistance to uninsured patients under 250% of the federal poverty level and that those patients can get the lowest negotiated rate a private insurer gets. This change prevents uninsured patients from being charged the sticker price that nobody else pays. However, more clarity is needed around what information consumers need to be able to take advantage of financial assistance.

Financial assistance is vital because recent data show medical bills are the number one cause of bankruptcy in America, and 1 in 5 Coloradans struggled to pay their medical bills in 2013.

CCHI and CCLP have worked with the Colorado Hospital Association over the past several months to support SB50, which will give clear guidelines to hospitals and empower consumers with the information they need to pay their medical bills responsibly.

SB50 establishes a standards committee, comprised of consumers, hospitals, legislators and state staff, to develop recommendations for rules about hospital financial assistance. This committee will be able to work together to develop uniform standards about what financial assistance information should be available on websites, on patient bills, and in hospital waiting rooms. For example, who is eligible and how to apply are two important items that every consumer should have access to. This information is necessary for consumers to understand their rights and their options to afford the health care they need, when they need it.

SB50 also makes it easier for hospitals to correct mistakes such as overbilling or neglecting to put information on a billing statement about how to apply for financial assistance. If the mistake resulted in a cost to the patient, the hospital is responsible for paying them back. In order to make sure that consumers who qualify for a hospital’s payment assistance program are not overcharged, the bill also gives the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment the crucial ability to review hospital compliance with the law and require the hospital to follow through on a corrective action plan for egregious or repeated errors.

Despite over 280,000 Coloradans getting covered in the past six months through the Affordable Care Act, there will still be some Coloradans who remain uninsured. SB50 will play an important role in protecting the uninsured from medical bankruptcy, and it will ensure they can access the financial assistance they should receive.

SB50’s next step is in the House Health Insurance and Environment Committee tomorrow, Tuesday, April 22nd. CCHI will be there to testify. Don’t forget to tell your state representative to vote YES on SB50 today.

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