DENVER, Colo. (KKCO) – A new law meant to protect Colorado’s most vulnerable patients has the state’s most vulnerable hospitals concerned about a decade old law causing unintended consequences.
In rural Colorado, it comes down to a question of funding and whether it’s feasible for them to do what has been asked of them. A new law has been introduced into the legislature with the goal of fixing a past law from over a decade ago that required hospitals to help patients who couldn’t afford their medical bills.
Adam Fox with the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative says that the main problem with the law was a high level of inconsistency in how hospitals implemented that 2012 law.
Fox also said that some patients had no idea they could get discounted care, or help navigating the application. “Some people end up putting those bills on credit cards that take years to pay off, if they are ever able to,” said Fox.
In response, Fox’s organization helped make HB21-1198 a reality to create a uniform system. “I would say more of the cases that we have seen are from the Denver Metro and suburban areas. But that’s just because we have a higher population there,” said Fox.
But, at Lincoln Hospital in Hugo, CO, Kevin Stansbury says that a uniform system hurts hospitals in rural areas. That’s because how much a patient pays is tied to their income, which plays out differently in rural Colorado.
“There are not a lot of W-2 employees, necessarily, that work in farming or ranching. They’re small business people. So, their incomes are varied, based on how the harvest is going or whether they sold their cattle at what price,” said Stansbury.
Stansbury said that they already have a charity care policy in an informal capacity that works, but now they have to hire more administrative staff instead of spending it on patient care when the hospital’s budget was already tight.
“It may mean fewer services that we may have,” said Stansbury.
Nancy Dolson, the overseer of the program, said, “Yeah, for sure, I would say that we absolutely recognize some of the challenges that this has caused, particularly for our rural hospitals. And we’ve been working with the rural hospitals and with the Colorado Hospital Association to address the administrative burden wherever we can.”
While Dolson acknowledged that hardship, she said that the core of the law is patients.
There is help for rural hospitals through state and federal programs, but the law does not set aside any money to help with the cost of this new law.