Lawmakers debate bill that would strengthen medical financial assistance programs

Mar 13, 2024

A proposal that would require hospitals to provide financial assistance to low-income individuals has received pushback from care providers that say the necessary reporting requirements would be overburdensome and ultimately increase the cost of care they provide.

What’s in the bill:
House Bill 5320, which was introduced by the Public Health Committee, would require hospitals to provide financial assistance to any patient, regardless of immigration status, who qualifies for the federal Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or the federal Special Supplemental Food Program for Women, Infants and Children. Hospitals must provide the assistance after verifying that the patient’s household income does not exceed 250% “of the federal poverty level, without an asset limit.”

Per the bill, the state Office of Health Strategy will develop a uniform application for hospital financial assistance and make it available online. Information about the application would also be required to be on bills and collection notices.

The bill would require hospitals to annually report data related to the financial assistance program, such as how many patients requested financial assistance, how many applications were approved and how much providing the financial assistance has cost.

 Who’s for it:
Advocates for the bill said the proposal would help close the gap of financial inequity when it comes to health care in Connecticut. By establishing a uniform application for financial assistance programs and requiring hospitals to notify patients about the opportunity, more residents will be aware of what’s available to them, they said.

“Medical debt is a major and growing contributor to the cycle of economic and health inequity,” said Mendi Blue Paca, president and CEO of Fairfield County’s Community Foundation. “When medical debt is sent to collections, individuals can face decreased access to credit, increased likelihood of bankruptcy, and/or costly and lengthy collection litigation. They also experience high-stress levels and poor health and are forced to delay or forgo medical care. All nonprofit hospitals are required to offer financial assistance to patients. However, 45% of nonprofit hospitals routinely send medical bills to patients whose incomes are low enough to qualify for financial assistance.”

Who’s against it:
Several Connecticut hospitals submitted testimony against the proposal, with some saying they already provide certain financial assistance to low-income individuals and the reporting requirements would be an added burden and increase service costs.

Hospital officials also said the uniform application for financial assistance ignores the nuance of certain requests and how hospital operations differ from institution to institution.

In testimony opposing the bill, the Connecticut Hospital Association said its primary objection is that “it is largely duplicative.”

“All Connecticut hospitals already provide free care or financial assistance to individuals who fall within the income requirements of these programs, regardless of immigration status,” CHA said. “This bill imposes unnecessary and burdensome reporting requirements that add to hospitals’ administrative expenses and, ultimately, the cost of care, while also authorizing the Attorney General to investigate the application of hospital financial assistance policies.”
The committee Monday said it removed language that makes the state Attorney General the enforcer of the proposal, so there isn’t currently an enforcement mechanism for the proposal.

 What’s next:
The Public Health Committee on Monday was scheduled to discuss the bill.

This article was originally published on on March 11, 2024.