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More Patient Protections for Hospital Billing in 2022

Many Californians, whether insured, underinsured, or uninsured, are carrying the burdens of medical debt in their lives. This year, Western Center co-sponsored AB 1020 (Friedman) to address this problem. AB 1020 strengthens the existing Hospital Fair Pricing Act, which requires California hospitals to provide free or discounted care to uninsured and underinsured patients who are low income; and the Rosenthal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and Fair Debt Buying Practices Act, which require debt collectors and debt buyers to follow fair debt collection procedures.

The amendments aim to inform more people of the availability of financial assistance when receiving hospital services and hold hospitals, debt collectors, and debt buyers accountable to this assistance. Since the Hospital Fair Pricing Act was passed 15 years ago, legal services advocates have navigated an opaque application process with their clients who should have qualified for charity care but never received notice or an application. Patients were left in murky negotiating situations when they had to deal with accounts that had been assigned or sold to debt collectors and debt buyers. Patients needed a clearer application process. AB 1020 does the following:

  • Requires hospitals to provide patients with notices about their charity care and discounted payment policies and actual applications at specific points in the billing and collections cycle;
  • Requires hospital contracts with debt buyers to include patient protection provisions;
  • Imposes additional requirements for collection of medical debt;
  • Authorizes the Department of Health Care Access and Information to penalize hospitals for non-compliance (coming in 2024); and
  • To keep up with the higher cost of living, increases the income eligibility threshold to 400% of the federal poverty level.

Our Health Care Practice Tip this month details these changes and more. One common unlawful provision found in many hospitals’ fair pricing policies is a specific time period to apply, often set at 150 days. These deadlines violate the Hospital Fair Pricing Act, which allows patients to apply for charity care or discounted payments at any time, without time limit.  Meanwhile, hospitals may still commence collection activity after the statutory time period has passed. The Health Care Practice Tip explains this issue.

Even in the pandemic, the accumulation and collection of medical debt have not stopped. Our state’s charity care and collections laws still require rigorous enforcement by advocates.

Here is the full report: Health Care Practice Tip – December 2021

Your Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs Need Not Be a Mystery

“Sometimes when people see any kind of bill, they think they need to pay it,” says Jen Flory, a policy advocate at the Western Center on Law & Poverty, which supported the legislation. “So unless they understand that, ‘Oh, I reached my deductible, or my out-of-pocket max,’ people panic and do whatever they need to do to pay the bill. And it can be hard to get the money back from providers if they pay unnecessarily.”

Your Out-of-Pocket Health Care Costs Need Not Be a Mystery

Are Medical Credit Cards a Debt Trap?

Western Center attorney and policy advocate Jen Flory joined The Doctors for a segment on the topic of high interest medical credit cards. Some dental patients face years of debt due to high interest credit cards, many of which are promoted when patients are vulnerable and in pain.

Watch here

 

California curbs deferred-interest credit for veterinary care

“Few consumers understand that if they fail to pay the entire balance during the introductory period or if they make a late payment, they end up with an interest charge that can be larger than the remaining balance, according to state Sen. Holly J. Mitchell, who co-authored the law, and Jen Flory, a health policy advocate with Western Center on Law & Poverty.”

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