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Poor patients to get help

By Ann Imse
Colorado Public News

Starting Aug. 8, Colorado hospitals will no longer be allowed to charge their highest prices to the poorest, uninsured patients.

A bill banning the widespread practice was signed by Gov. John Hickenlooper Monday afternoon. The program is expected to cut hospital bills for such patients by half or more. Shortly before the signing, the governor said he hoped the law reduces the number of bankruptcies stemming from high medical bills.

Currently, hospitals effectively charge different prices for the same procedure, depending on whoís paying. The uninsured end up with the highest prices because they donít have an insurance company to negotiate for them.

The new law would make hospitals give their best price, not their worst, to the low-income and uninsured. That could cut their bills by half, or even more. It applies to people with incomes at 250 percent of poverty level. Thatís $27,925 for a single person and $57,625 for a family of four.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, and co-sponsored by Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora. It had support from the Colorado Hospital Association. As a result, the bill passed by a vote of 28-13 in the state Senate and 45-20 in the House, an unusual example of broad bipartisan support.

The bill also requires hospitals to tell patients about their financial-aid and payment plans. Many donít publicize them now. Hospitals also would be required to give patients 30 days after a late payment before sending bills to collections agencies.

Exempla, which runs four hospitals in Grand Junction, Lafayette and Denver, said it supported the bill because it already has a policy of providing free care for patients with incomes up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level. That would be families of four with incomes up to $46,100 and subsidies for up to $92,200.

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