Should Voluntarily Uninsured Patients Lose Charity Care?

Now that the Affordable Healthcare Act’s healthcare marketplaces and policies are in effect, hospitals are considering whether those who decline health coverage should benefit from charitable care.

The issue of whether to discontinue charity care for the voluntarily uninsured is tricky and, according to some, more a question of whether their denial of insurance indicates unwillingness to pay or an inability to pay. Some patients fall into the gap between Medicaid coverage and affordable subsidized care, while others who may be eligible for subsidized insurance are still unable to afford the high deductibles featured in lower-tier plans.

Other questions include whether patients were aware of available coverage options or if they were able to sign up during open enrollment. On the other hand, a significant though unsubstantiated concern about charitable care programs is that uninsured patients will be dissuaded from enrolling in a healthcare plan if they know that charitable care is an option. This could result in greater financial difficulty for hospitals receiving less government assistance to cover uninsured patients, particularly in states that declined Medicaid expansion.

For the moment, many hospitals are considering the effects of a change and have therefore not made any updates to their charitable care policies. Hospitals that have changed their programs have done so in a number of ways:

  • Reducing income threshold for additional assistance
  • Requiring a “nominal” contribution for care
  • Requiring patients to apply for coverage before they can benefit from charitable care (note: this is an existing practice in most hospitals)
  • Disqualifying aid to patients that refuse to enroll in coverage for which they are eligible (including Medicaid)

Regardless of hospitals’ decisions, all hospitals are required to clearly state their charitable care policies in compliance with the ACA and they must make “reasonable efforts” to qualify patients for aid before pursuing them for collections.

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