Colorado Hospital Payment Assistance Program Now in Effect

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According to the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative , a new law designed to help uninsured patients in Colorado get information on hospital discount and charity programs went into effect on Wednesday, Aug. 8. The law also limits how much low-income uninsured individuals can be charged for their medical care. Here are the details.

* The Hospital Payment Assistance Program, SB 12-134, was signed into law on May 7, 2012 .

* The bill requires that hospitals make information available to each patient regarding financial assistance programs, charity care and payment plan policies that are available. This information must be provided conspicuously on the hospital's website, in patient waiting areas, given to patients before discharge from the hospital and in each patient's billing statement.

* The hospital will also, according to the bill, offer to screen each uninsured patient for eligibility for financial assistance when possible.

* In addition, the new law requires hospitals to wait 30 days after a patient's first late payment and to offer a reasonable payment plan before sending a past-due account to collections.

* According to CCHI's information on the Hospital Payment Assistance Program, available in PDF format, the latest Medicare cost reports show that hospital charges in Colorado were 384 percent of total hospital costs.

* Surveys have shown that hospital charity and discount policies were often not easily accessible or available online.

* 21 percent of Coloradans had difficulty paying their medical bills in 2011 and, nationally, 62.1 percent of all U.S. bankruptcies in 2007 were attributed to high medical costs, the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative reported.

* The Hospital Payment Assistance Act received an endorsement from a non-partisan, non-profit research and policy organization, The Bell Policy Center, last February.

* In the Bell Policy Center testimony to the Senate Health and Human Services Committee, policy analyst Robert Semro stated that the bill will provide greater access to care for Coloradans who may not seek medical treatment due to cost.

* Due to patients being unaware of payment plans and charity programs available to them, they may be charged more than the actual cost of care, said Semro.

* The bill's limit on debt-collection plans for the uninsured will limit annual payments to 10 percent of income, Semro stated, which will reduce family financial pressure and make medical debt more manageable.

* 829,000 people in Colorado do not have health insurance, Semro reported.

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