HHS is expected to post industry guidance within the week on how hospitals can bill the uninsured for their care, Modern Healthcare has learned. Senior staff from the American Hospital Association met with officials from HHS, the CMS and HHS' inspector general's office last week regarding the guidance, which the AHA requested in December 2003 amid widespread criticism of hospitals' billing and collection practices. Recently a handful of hospital chains and associations have announced new policies. For example, the 61-member Alliance of Catholic Health Care, Sacramento, Calif., announced today that its members had adopted a policy under which uninsured patients earning up to 300% of the poverty level would be charged the equivalent of Medicare and Medicaid rates. In addition, members would offer qualifying families interest-free payment plans and would not use wage garnishments or home liens to collect unpaid bills from those families.
The inspector general's office reportedly has completed guidance addressing the AHA's questions about billing the uninsured, but the guidance has not been finalized and more meetings are planned. AHA spokeswoman Alicia Mitchell confirmed that staff had met with government officials last week regarding the matter. The CMS, HHS and the inspector general's office declined to comment. Paul Danello, an attorney formerly with the inspector general's office and now in private practice in Washington, said hospitals are concerned about violating federal antikickback laws that prohibit providers from discounting prices or offering free treatment. "They are awaiting guidance from HHS that would open up a safe harbor for these (billing) policies," Danello said. -- by Mark Taylor