Fair Access to Hospital Care

In the fall of 2017 we released Access Denied: Washington’s Charity Care System, its Shortfalls, and the Effect on Low-Income Patients, a report that includes original research and analysis by Columbia Legal Services (CLS) and provides recommendations for changes in law, policy, and practice aimed to ensure that charity care fulfills its original purpose - guaranteeing that those in greatest need are able to obtain critical health care services. CLS also retained a nationally renowned research group, the Equal Rights Center (ERC), to conduct a comprehensive survey regarding what language barriers exist to accessing charity care and how they can be addressed. (En Español)

Hospital Charity Care Notice Bills

Advocates pushed forward the Hospital Charity Care Notice bills before the state's House (HB 1359) and Senate (SB 5231). These bills would have required that patients receive verbal and written notice about the availability of charity care in English and Spanish, as well as clearly stating that patients can contact the hospital for more information. It would have also required that all medical financial statements have written a notice about the availability of charity care in English and Spanish.

Clients in our charity care case submitted letters before the House and Senate on why they supported HB 1359 and SB 5231, they shared the challenges they faced when receiving medical bills:

Unfortunately these bills did not go forward. Advocates are continuing to push this work through other avenues.

When families and workers across Washington State receive the necessary health care services they need, we all benefit from healthier communities today and dollars saved on essential medical care in the future. Yet, too many low-income families in Washington State face barriers when health problems arise, a primary obstacle being cost. The cost of medical services, especially during emergencies, shouldn’t prohibit people from seeking hospital care. Columbia Legal Services, working closely with patients and allies, aims to help break down these barriers to affordable health care so all families can thrive.

Fair Access to Hospital Care Campaign

In June 2016, Columbia Legal Services launched a public education campaign to inform low-income patients and the broader public about charity care and to stand with eligible patients across the state who are not screened for charity care as required by law and do not receive financial assistance they deserve. Our campaign includes litigation to enforce existing statutes and requirements for hospitals to affirmatively identify patients’ eligibility, policy reform to increase access to charity care, and research, education, and analysis that informs Washingtonians about their rights. Find out more 

Ally organizations are joining us to highlight the impact of medical debt on families and how one unplanned health emergency can lead to a devastating cycle of debt. This broad group of organizations works with impacted communities and includes Northwest Justice Project, Northwest Health Law Advocates, Casa Latina, NAACP, El Centro de la Raza, Washington CAN!, OneAmerica, and Solid Ground.

Watch this space or contact Columbia Legal Services for more information about how you can get involved and help share information about our state’s charity care laws.

Do you qualify for free or discounted hospital care?

Download this helpful brochure to help determine if you qualify for charity care, how to apply, and find out about more charity care resources available in Washington State.


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