Washington State hospitals standardize charity care forms

Seattle — Although thousands of people in Washington have recently gained access to health coverage with Medicaid expansion, many families still struggle with large hospital bills as a result of significant injuries and illnesses. State law requires all hospitals provide charity care to help eliminate or reduce those hospital bills. Recently, patient advocates alerted lawmakers and the state hospital association to a stumbling block— patients were confused about the availability of charity care and the forms used to determine if a patient qualifies.

In the past, each hospital developed its own, slightly different process to inform patients and determine if a patient qualified. The variation in notice and forms made it harder for patients to know about and receive financial assistance. Rep. Laurie Jinkins (D-27) sponsored a bill that would have required the state develop a common form, but the bill did not pass. The Washington State Hospital Association suggested starting with a voluntary, collaborative approach.

“Charity care application forms were long, confusing and scary for patients,” said Jinkins. “When I brought this to WSHA’s attention, they realized it didn’t have to be this way and went right to work with their hospitals and patient advocates. Together, they developed an application form that will be much easier for patients to use so people can get the care they need.”

To create a common standard, WSHA convened hospital patient services and finance experts. They worked to develop an application form and process to meet hospitals’ needs, the legislator’s goals, and most important, the needs of patients. The standard application uses a streamlined set of questions to enable hospitals to evaluate each patient’s eligibility for charity care. The standard communication plan ensures there is good information available so patients and the community know about the availability charity care.

As a result of that work, 91 of the state’s 99 community hospitals are now using the common form and communication plan or in the process of adopting. WSHA has translated the form into eight languages and hospitals are using the new forms for those who cannot understand English.

The Washington State Hospital Association works to improve the health of all Washington state residents by being active on key issues of policy and quality. WSHA represents more than 100 hospitals and health systems in the state, including those that are non-profit, investor-owned, and county, state and military hospitals. The Triple Aim guides our members and our work, as we strive to improve the patient experience, improve the health of populations and reduce the cost of health care. The common forms and a list of participating hospitals can be found online at www.wsha.org, under members/ resources for hospitals/ financial assistance information. Locally, St. Joseph’s and other CHI Franciscan hospitals, as well as Mary Bridge, Tacoma General and other MultiCare hospitals are using the form.
– Washington State Hospital Association

www.wsha.org

St. Joseph's Hospital

St. Joseph Medical Center

Photo credit: Danielle Nease