By Britt Landis, CCHI Fellow/Consumer Advocate
The Colorado Consumer Health Initiative (CCHI) has heard stories from consumers who are hit with hospital bills that they simply cannot pay—threatening their access to the continued care they need as well as their financial stability.
We know that many hospitals in Colorado, in addition to providing excellent care, also provide assistance to patients who cannot afford the often-enormous price of hospital care. Yet, most patients don’t know about this assistance, and not every hospital provides it.
I am a fellow at the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative and earlier this winter, I conducted an online survey of hospital websites regarding their financial assistance programs. I sought to find out: can patients who seek medical care, but who are fearful of the cost, find out if hospitals will help them pay their bills responsibly?
My survey pointed to this answer: sometimes. In my experience searching through websites, the majority (about 56%) of hospitals provided either very limited information, such as a simple referral to a billing office, or it provided no information at all.
The remaining 44% of hospitals provided varying levels of information beyond just cursory statements. On some of the best hospital websites, I found great information, including: expectations for the billing process, available state and hospital financial assistance programs, and the requirements that patients would need to meet in order to qualify for outlined discounts. This information makes a difference to people who need hospital services, but who do not have the means to purchase comprehensive health insurance. It can equip these patients with the information they need to work with hospitals to pay their bills with dignity.
But in my experience, I could only found this kind of information for about 20% of the hospitals– and most of these hospitals were a part of the same hospital system.
The Hospital Payment Assistance Act (SB 134), sponsored by Senator Aguilar, would require all hospitals in Colorado to provide patients with information on financial assistance. Hospitals would have to provide this information conspicuously online, in hospital waiting rooms and on billing statements. The bill also limits hospital charges for low-income uninsured Coloradans to the same rate insurers pay and requires hospitals to offer payment plans to this group before collection proceedings.
The bill passed unanimously out of the Health and Human Services Committee in the Senate and it will be heard on the Senate floor this week. If the bill passes the Senate, it will move to the Colorado House of Representatives for consideration. If you would like to support this bill or share your story about an experience with hospital debt, please let me know.
Coloradans want to be able to pay for their health care and they deserve information about how they can do so in reasonable and responsible ways. Transparency surrounding financial assistance programs is a vital part of ensuring that we can all get the health care services we need, when we need them.