Relief in Sight for Surprise Hospital Bills

By Max Friedman

5314990099_f4d70c24d3_oIn recent years, more and more patients have faced surprise bills after a hospital visit.  Even at non-profit hospitals, which are intended to serve the needs of the community regardless of patient income.

When patients can’t pay the exorbitant bills, hospitals go after these patients by unleashing debt collectors, seek to garnish their wages, and even have liens placed on their homes.  This occurs even if a patient is eligible for financial assistance based on their income.

Relief may be in sight, however.

At the end of 2014, the IRS and Treasury Department issued new rules which apply to non-profit hospitals, but which could also become an industry standard, since the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has endorsed them.  Non-profit hospitals must now offer discounted and free care to certain patients.  They must also try to determine whether a patient is eligible for assistance before beginning one of the collection actions described above.

Uninsured low-income patients will now be eligible to pay the same discounted rates of those insured by private carriers, Medicare or Medicaid, rather than the hospital’s “sticker price.”  Community Catalyst has a good piece explaining the new rules and how they will help patients.

Currently, all but one of Connecticut’s hospitals are non-profits, though, the hospital landscape is in flux with ongoing negotiations by for-profit Tenet Healthcare to acquire up to five Connecticut hospitals.

For an in-depth look at hospitals in Connecticut, and the impact of consolidations and conversions on patient care and costs, check out our recent reports on the subject.

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