Many hospitals in Washington were routinely denying low-income patients access to free or reduced-cost care for income-eligible people by screening for citizenship status. As a result, immigrant patients faced crushing debts they were often unable to pay. A single visit to the emergency room could result in years of debt. For many immigrants, basic health care was simply out of reach.
The Basic Human Needs Project
, along with Alliance
partners and others, identified improper denials of "charity care" (required free services from hospitals who receive government subsidies) as an important issue for our client communities. Charity care is a final safety net for all uninsured and under-insured patients who need financial assistance for life-saving treatments, and is especially important for low-income working people including many immigrants who are excluded from the Affordable Care Act
A Western Washington hospital denied charity care to a immigrant who was hospitalized after an auto accident, because the patient did not produce a social security number. Calls came in from other immigrants treated the same way, along with reports of similar discrimination at three other hospitals. CLS advoacy resulted in the Department of Health directing all Washington hospitals that immigration status may not be considered for charity care eligibility. This advocacy removed more than $60,000 of medical debt for the immigrant clients CLS worked with directly, and will prevent unnecessary medical debt for thousands of immigrant families across the state.
CLS is also working with Seattle law firm Sirianni, Youtz, Spoonemore, Hamburger
on a proposed class-action against an Eastern Washington hospital accused of requiring large "deposits" from people who are entitled to free care.