This element of healthcare reform hasn’t been publicized as widely-publicized as some others, but considering the overwhelming need for free and low-cost healthcare we just witnessed at the RAM free healthcare clinic in Los Angeles recently, we think it’s one that is very worthwhile to be aware of.
Under healthcare reform, starting in their next tax year, non-profit hospitals will be required to provide free or discounted healthcare as a “community benefit” in order to keep their tax-exempt status. Specifically, non-profit hospitals will be required to:
• Widely publicize their “financial assistance” programs, including the eligibility criteria of their programs,
• Not charge those eligible for such financial assistance any more than the amounts people who have insurance are generally billed,
• Bar “extraordinary” debt collection efforts until after hospitals determine whether a patient who owes money is eligible for financial assistance, and
• Perform a “community needs assessment” every three years.
Of the almost 6,000 hospitals in this country, about half are non-profits to whom these new healthcare reform requirements will apply. To monitor each hospital’s performance under the charity care requirements, the IRS will be reviewing the tax-exempt status of each hospital every three years, and Department of the Treasury and U.S. Health and Human Services Department will submit annual reports to Congress on charity care, bad-debt expenses and losses that hospitals incur on programs such as Medicaid.
Lest you pooh-pooh the push to force non-profit hospitals to justify their tax-exempt status, keep in mind that Illinois already has similar laws regarding non-profit hospitals on its books, and the Downstate Provena Covenant Medical Center was recently stripped of its tax exemption on the grounds that it provided inadequate free or discounted healthcare under Illinois law.
What If I Need Free Healthcare Now?
If you need free or discounted care now, you should know that the American Hospital Association has voluntary guidelines for providing such care already. A recent study found that these charity care programs are often poorly publicized by hospitals, but they are out there, so if you need care, don’t be shy!
If you need free or discounted healthcare, make sure you talk to someone at the hospital who would be knowledgeable about these programs. Unfortunately, in many cases, front-line hospital employees are unaware of hospital charity care programs, so keep pushing until you talk to someone in charge! It’s part of a non-profit hospital’s charitable mission to provide healthcare to those in need, so you are entitled to find out if you are eligible for their programs.
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For more on related topics, visit MyHealthCafe.com:
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- Healthcare Reform: Putting your Adult Child on Your Health Insurance Policy… Is It Worth It?
- Remote Area Medical Clinic Concludes in Los Angeles; Nearly 7,000 Received Free Healthcare and Dental Care
- Healthcare Reform: So What Happens to COBRA Health Insurance Coverage?