Hospitals are not open about their charity-care and financial-assistance policies despite voluntary guidelines by the American Hospital Association asking hospitals to develop fair policies and publish them widely, according to a report by the Access Project, Boston. The community-action group, which focuses on access to care for the poor and uninsured, said few hospital executives were willing to provide clear information about financial-assistance programs. Despite repeated phone calls to 61 randomly selected hospitals, only 12 executives, representing 15 hospitals, agreed to participate in the survey. Even fewer were willing and able to share their hospitals' written policies on eligibility for financial assistance, the Access Project said.
The AHA issued the guidelines in December 2003, amid a slew of lawsuits against hospitals over their billing of uninsured patients and as lawmakers threatened legislation to curb the industry's billing and collection practices. According to the AHA's Web site, more than 80% of its 5,000 member hospitals have pledged that they meet or exceed the guidelines or were evaluating their policies in light of the guidelines. "This national survey places the burden of proof on hospitals to show that they actually are sharing information with their communities about financial support for uninsured patients and that their signatures on the letter of commitment reflect their actual practices," Access Project Director Mark Rukavina said in a news release. Read the report. -- by Laura B. Benko