Epic fail: Hospitals aren’t publicizing charity programs

Having blasted Mass General — which in all honesty, I’m assume is about average in the charity care management — it’s worth digging deeper into what keeps people nationwide from getting the help they deserve.  While the issue is complicated, in many cases it seems to boil down to indifference and lousy management.

Let’s be kind and assume that virtually all nonprofit hospitals make a legitimate effort inform patients about charity care options.  That still leaves WAY, way too many who aren’t trying very hard, according to several researchers. Consider this example from a Boston-area advocacy organization:

While the vast majority of the 99 hospitals surveyed by the Access Project and Community Catalyst mentioned the availability of free or discounted care on their websites, or when contacted by phone, less than half provided application forms and only about one-quarter included information on requirements to qualify for such care.” (Kaiser Health News)

And if you want more evidence that hospitals duck their obligations, or at least haven’t trained their staff to meet them, consider New York’s experience.

“A 2007 law enacted in New York state requires all hospitals in the state to tell patients without health insurance verbally, in writing and through conspicuous signs that they could be eligible for funding through a $847 billion state charity care hospital fund… When New York City officials tested hospitals for compliance, they found that of the city’s 59 hospitals, 22 percent had no charity care reminder signs posted as required by law. Meanwhile, at nine hospitals, staff members didn’t provide information on possible financial assistance even when prompted–and at five of those, staff members said patients would get no care if they couldn’t pay.” (Paraphrased from FierceHealthcare)

Of course, plain ol’ greed, management structures that discourage creative solutions and a raft of other influences have an impact on charity care programs.  But if hospital leaders pushed responsibility, accountability and enough authority down the line to people greeting patients, it would be a good place to start. Hey, what if financial staffers got incentives based on how many appropriate referrals they’d made to internal free and discounted care programs?  Wouldn’t that be wacky?

What’s your hospital doing to get financial staffers into the loop on charity care programs?

About the author

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger

Anne Zieger is a healthcare journalist who has written about the industry for 30 years. Her work has appeared in all of the leading healthcare industry publications, and she's served as editor in chief of several healthcare B2B sites.

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