Yakima Valley hospital officials say a new state law expanding charity care won’t change things much here, and they exceed the requirements outlined in the legislation.
The law, which took effect on July 1, requires large hospital systems to provide more financial assistance to people who need it. It is expected to extend heavily discounted care to around 1 million Washingtonians. An additional million residents who previously qualified for these discounts may now be eligible for free health care.
It establishes two tiers of financial assistance — one for large health care systems and another for smaller, independent hospitals. Yakima Valley Memorial and Astria Health hospitals in Toppenish and Sunnyside fall into the second category, and are required to provide free care for households living within 200% of the federal poverty guidelines. The federal poverty guideline is $13,590 per year with an additional $4,720 for every additional member of the household.
Previously, all hospitals regardless of size or location were required to provide free care for patients living within 100% of the federal poverty level, with a sliding scale for those within 200%.
Though there are concerns the changes will put a greater financial strain on hospitals, officials at Astria and Memorial said their policies exceed the requirements put forth by the new law, and they don’t expect a rush of new patients or an impact to their bottom line.
Both health systems have policies in place that allow for patients living within 300% of the poverty guideline to have 100% of the patient’s balance forgiven. The balance is what’s leftover after insurance pays, if the patient has insurance.
Another change to the law includes the consideration of the patient’s assets when determining the size of their discount.
Memorial said it provided $17 million in charity care to patients in 2021, and part of its goal is providing health care to community members who cannot afford it on their own.
“We do not expect a significant influx of new patients who qualify under this law, as we already provide financial assistance for many patients in our county who are part of this demographic,” hospital officials said in a statement.
Astria Health officials also said they do not expect a change in patient numbers. The majority of the organization’s patient population falls within the poverty guidelines, a statement said.
Hospital year-end financial reports available on the state Department of Health website show Sunnyside, a 25-bed hospital provided $3.89 million in charity care while Toppenish, a 63-bed hospital provided $614,309. That same year, Memorial reported $26.13 million worth of charity care for its 226-bed building.
In February, the state attorney general’s office filed a consumer protection lawsuit against five Swedish hospitals and nine Providence-affiliated hospitals over charity care.