A report on North County Public Radio (NCPR) expanded on this study by telling the story of Lori Duff from Columbus, OH. Duff had frequently visited a local nonprofit hospital called Mount Caramel Health for prenatal care while pregnant with her third son. She had assumed that, since she was earning less than 200 percent of the federal poverty level, that the prenatal care would be free. That's why she was shocked when debt collectors demanded $1,800 for her visits to the hospital.
A spokesperson for Mount Caramel, which sued Duff and several other patients for not paying their bills, told NCPR that its mission is to provide as much charitable care as possible, but it must collect payments from those who can afford to pay them.
This is not the first instance that nonprofit hospitals have been accused of stingy health care. Three Illinois hospitals were denied tax-exemption last year after it was deemed they did not provide enough free care. The Affordable Care Act of 2010 attempted to address this type of issue by setting new rules for how nonprofit hospitals report its charity care. These new rules went into effect last year but have not been widely enforced. Here are some of the requirements:
- Nonprofit hospitals are prohibited from charging uninsured low-income payments higher rates than the lowest amounts billed to individuals with insurance.
- They must have a clearly written financial assistance policy describing who is eligible for free or reduced cost care.
- Extraordinary collections actions are not allowed against patients before determining whether the patient qualifies for financial assistance.
You can read the full story on NCPR's website.