Earlier this year, I wrote about the Colorado Hospital Payment Assistance Act and the impact it’s expected to have on the uninsured population in Colorado. The new program will go into effect next week, on August 8th. The bill was originally introduced by Dr. Irene Aguilar, whose physician’s license puts her in a unique position regarding healthcare legislation. Unlike most of her peers, Dr. Aguilar has first-hand experience in the healthcare industry, and she’s dedicated much of her time in the legislature to improving access to healthcare for people who currently have little or no realistic access.
When I read the text of the bill in the spring – right after it had been sent to Governor Hickenlooper for his signature – I only saw the House Version. I’ve recently read the Senate Version (which was where Senator Aguilar originally introduced the bill) and noticed that it had a higher income threshold than the final version that was signed into law. The version of the law that will take effect next week provides assistance for families earning up to 250% of federal poverty level (about $57,000 for a family of four). But the original Senate bill called for assistance for those earning up to 400% of FPL (roughly $92,000 for a family of four). Aguilar noted that some rural hospitals were concerned about losing a good chunk of their revenue with the higher limit, especially since incomes tend to be lower in rural areas. Obviously if the bill ended up causing the collapse of rural hospitals it would be very counterproductive, so the compromise on income limits makes sense.
To sum up the new law, hospitals will be required to charge uninsured patients earning less than 250% of FPL (and who are not covered by the Colorado Indigent Care Program) no more than the lowest negotiated price the hospital has with a private health insurance carrier. In addition, hospitals will have to clearly post their financial assistance, charity care and payment plan information so that patients will be aware of the financial options that are available.
In an article I wrote last week about the shooting victims in Aurora, I noted that although highly publicized tragedies tend to generate a lot of financial support (and in this case some of the hospitals treating the victims have offered to waive charges), there are many other people suffering from all sorts of injuries and illnesses whose cases do not receive media attention and who are crippled by the cost of their care. The Hospital Payment Assistance Program will hopefully provide some measure of relief for uninsured Coloradans who find themselves in need of hospital care in the future.