An activist who has been criticizing hospitals regarding their billing practices for uninsured patients charged last week that hospital chain HCA is not following its 9-month-old policy of offering sliding-scale discounts based on a patient's income.
In a report, K.B. Forbes, executive director of Consejo de Unidos Latinos, or the Council of United Latinos, accuses the Nashville-based company of failing to notify patients that they were eligible to receive free or reduced-price care. More than 600 patients contacted Consejo and 462 of them were interviewed, Forbes said. Of those, 143 patients were treated at HCA hospitals, primarily in Colorado and Florida, since the discount plan went into effect Oct. 1, 2003, the report said.
The discount plan was enacted several months after Consejo began pressuring the company to lower its prices for uninsured patients.
Just four of the 143 patients interviewed by Consejo received written information on the discount plan, the report said. Three said they did not understand the information that was mailed to them.
The group was not a representative sample of HCA patients. Only those patients who saw Consejo's advertising or media stories about the group and decided to call were interviewed, Forbes said.
HCA spokesman Jeff Prescott said the policy is being followed but acknowledged some problems in carrying out the policy. He said determining whether an uninsured patient qualifies for Medicaid or the hospital's charity-care or discount policies is a lengthy, pain-staking process. And even if the patient is able to provide all the information needed to check for Medicaid eligibility before leaving the hospital, it can take weeks to verify eligibility, Prescott said.
Once patients leave the hospital, it can be difficult to track them down for additional information to qualify patients for discounts, he said. Patients who are treated in the emergency room and then released are the most difficult to qualify, since their time in the hospital is relatively short, he said.