Treasury proposes that instead of hounding those who can't pay, hospitals give them time to seek financial aid.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Hospital patients who can't afford to pay their bills would get protection from abusive collections practices, under proposed rules issued by the U.S. Treasury Department last week.
The regulations, which seek to clarify hospitals' responsibilities under the federal Affordable Care Act, give patients at least four months to apply for financial help before hospitals can turn them over to collections agencies or file lawsuits.
The proposed rules would also require hospitals to establish financial aid policies, and give patients the information needed to apply for such help.
"I think it's a very helpful first step," said Adam Linker, an analyst at the N.C. Health Access Coalition. "Virtually all of the hospitals have financial assistance policies. All that we're asking is that they show them to patients, which doesn't seem like a lot to ask."
Most hospitals are tax-exempt -- a distinction that saves them millions each year. In exchange, they're expected to provide financial help to those without the ability to pay.
Accretive Health, a collection company, has been under scrutiny by Minnesota authorities for practices that included stationing employees in emergency rooms and demanding that patients pay before getting treatment.
"In recent months, we have heard concerns about aggressive hospital debt collection activities," said Emily McMahon, Treasury Department acting assistant secretary for tax policy. "These practices jeopardize patient care, and our proposed rules will help ensure they don't happen in charitable hospitals."