HCA, Nashville, announced plans to change its billing and collection policies for uninsured patients. The announcement comes during Cover the Uninsured Week, an effort funded by three large healthcare foundations. It also comes six weeks after Tenet Healthcare Corp., Santa Barbara, Calif., announced a "Compact with the Uninsured" that would reduce the company's use of collection lawsuits. Like Tenet, HCA said some elements of its plan would require approval from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. The company's plan would declare all patients whose incomes are at or below 200% of the federal poverty level eligible for charity care and would implement a sliding discount scale for patients with incomes up to 400% of poverty level. The changes would apply to nonelective care only. HCA also said it would restrict but not eliminate the filing of asset liens or wage garnishments on patients with unpaid bills.
Had the policies been in place during 2002, HCA said, the company's net income would have fallen by $25 million, or 3 cents per share -- that is, to $808 million and $1.56 per share. HCA and Tenet have been targeted by Consejo de Latinos Unidos, or Council of United Latins, for what the advocacy group contends are price-gouging tactics. K.B. Forbes, Consejo's executive director, said in a written statement that the HCA plan is "worthless fluff" that leaves out too many uninsured patients. Forbes supports Tenet's plan. -- by Vince Galloro