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Watchdog Group Says IN Hospitals Withold Charity Care

One patient claimed that, fearing he was having a stroke, he went to the emergency room, where a nurse demanded he explain a past-due bill on his account.

Community Hospital

Photo: bterrycompton (Flickr)

Community Hospital is one of four being criticized by the Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund for neglecting to provide sufficient information about charity care to low-income patients.

The Citizens Action Coalition Education Fund, a liberal watchdog group, says Marion County hospitals should do a better job of informing patients of their options for reducing costs of treatment.

The tax exempt status of Marion County’s four nonprofit hospitals—IU Health, Saint Vincent, Saint Francis, and Community—requires them to provide some free or reduced-cost care for low-income patients—but the law doesn’t specify how much. The group says hospitals don’t do enough to advise patients that charity care is available.

Hospital Accountability Project Director Lindsay Helmbock said all four of Marion County’s nonprofit hospitals should do a better job, noting that instead of providing information about health and treatment options, some hospitals offered pamphlets about the amusement park Holiday World.

CACEF’s Julia Vaughn said Saint Francis-Beech Grove’s charity care practices are the weakest of the four. She charged Saint Francis has been overaggressive in seeking bill payments from patients who might be eligible for discounts, without advising them of the rights that would be granted them by its charity care policies.

In a series of forums hosted by CACEF and Indiana Legal Services, Vaughn said her group collected 93 patient complaints about Saint Francis’s bill collection practices. One patient claimed that, fearing he was having a stroke, he went to the emergency room, where a nurse demanded that he explain a past-due bill on his account before seeing a doctor. A spokesman from Saint Francis said the hospital will issue a statement.

Meanwhile, CACEF has hand-delivered a request to Attorney General Greg Zoeller, requesting an investigation of both Saint Francis’s charity care policies and the patient complaints. Zoeller’s office said they will review the request.

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