Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

Providence Regional Medical Center Everett. (Sue Misao / Herald file)

AG seeks refund for low-income Providence, Swedish patients

Some patients are legally entitled to free hospital care or discounts. Here’s a rundown of who is eligible.

OLYMPIA — The state attorney general is suing 14 hospitals across Washington, including Swedish Edmonds and Providence Regional Medical Center Everett.

The lawsuit alleges hospitals sent more than 54,000 low-income patients’ bills to debt collectors — even though patients were eligible for free hospital care and discounts on their bills.

The Daily Herald compiled information to help readers determine if they’re eligible for financial help with hospital bills. In Washington, the state charity care law requires hospitals to have a financial assistance policy. Many low-income patients are legally entitled to free hospital care or discounts on their bills. More than 1.8 million people in the state are eligible.

If the state attorney general’s lawsuit is successful, hospitals could be required to fully write off more than 54,000 patients’ medical debts. The patients who already paid, but were eligible for free hospital care or help with their medical bills, would receive a refund plus interest.

Readers who are interested in sharing their experience as patients of Swedish Edmonds or Providence in Everett can contact Herald reporters using this form or emailing newstips@heraldnet.com.

What is charity care?

The Charity Care Act is a state law that requires hospitals to provide free and reduced-cost medical care to low-income patients. Every hospital in Washington must offer charity care. The hospitals are also required to inform patients that they may qualify for free or reduced-cost care. More than 1.8 million people are eligible in Washington.

Am I eligible?

If your income is equal to or below the Federal Poverty Level, you’re legally entitled to free hospital care. If your income is under 200% of the Federal Poverty Level, you’re entitled to discounted hospital care, according to a news release from the Washington State Office of the Attorney General.

The Federal Poverty Level is currently $13,590 for a single person. Someone whose annual income falls below that number is not required to pay for hospital care. The income limit is $27,750 for a family of four. The dollar amount changes based on the year and the size of the household.

Patients with an annual income equal to or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level are entitled to discounted hospital care. The current income limit is $27,180 for a one-person household or $55,500 for a family of four.

Why is the state attorney general suing?

The lawsuit alleges, among other things, that 14 hospitals didn’t tell patients they were legally entitled to free medical care or discounts — then sent those patients’ bills to collection agencies. The conduct began in 2018, according to the news release.

The lawsuit names Providence Health & Services Washington, Swedish Health Services, Swedish Edmonds and Kadlec Regional Medical Center. The parent organization, Providence St. Joseph Health, is a Seattle-based national nonprofit health care system.

“Providence has engaged in unfair and deceptive practices that prevent many of the most vulnerable members of the communities it claims to serve from accessing free and reduced cost charity care,” reads the lawsuit filed in King County Superior Court.

The lawsuit is seeking $70 million in debt relief and refunds for patients, and even more in fines for the hospitals.

Katie Hayes: katie.hayes@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @misskatiehayes.

Katie Hayes is a Report for America corps member and writes about issues that affect the working class for The Daily Herald.

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