An investigation by the Washington AG’s office found that the hospital chain failed to notify low-income patients that they were eligible for financial assistance.
SEATTLE — A Washington hospital chain will refund up to $13.4 million to patients who qualified or could have qualified for financial assistance but were billed without notice .
Under Washington state law, patients who meet certain income requirements are eligible to receive financial assistance for their medical bills, and it is the health care facility’s responsibility to notify them. them about their eligibility. Health care company PeaceHealth, which operates five hospitals in Western Washington, is accused of violating those laws in thousands of cases.
PeaceHealth operates five hospitals in western Washington, including St. Joseph in Bellingham, Peace Island Medical Center in Friday Harbor, St. John’s Hospital in Longview, United General Health Center in Sedro-Woolley and Southwestern Medical Center in Vancouver.
An investigation by the Washington State Attorney General’s Office found that PeaceHealth failed to notify patients it knew were potentially eligible for financial assistance and failed to screen other patients for eligibility. conditions or not. The investigation found that PeaceHealth collected payments from more than 15,000 Washington residents who qualified or were potentially eligible for assistance.
PeaceHealth will reimburse approximately $4.2 million directly, including interest, to more than 4,500 patients. The healthcare company will begin a claims process to determine eligibility for an additional 11,000 patients and may ultimately reimburse an additional $9.2 million. The second group of patients will receive a form in the mail that they can return to the hospital, which will then determine whether they qualify for a refund.
The company will pay $2 million to the Washington AG’s office to cover the costs of the lengthy investigation that began in 2020 and fund similar work in the future.
Previous charity care lawsuits were brought by the AG’s office
The AG’s Office has filed three other lawsuits against Washington health care companies for similar violations of charity care laws.
In February 2022, Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a consumer protection lawsuit against five Swedish hospitals and nine Providence-affiliated health care facilities for failing to ensure Washington residents had income receive the discounts they deserve. Hospitals were accused of aggressively collecting payments from patients who qualified for financial assistance. That case will be heard in February 2024.
In a 2017 lawsuit, Ferguson received $41 million in debt relief and $1.8 million in refunds to thousands of patients who did not receive financial assistance at eight different hospitals.
Capital Medical Center in Olympia was sued over its charity care practices in 2017. The hospital refunded $250,000 and more than $131,000 in debt relief.