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Hospitals may help foot your bill — but many people don’t know that

A bill requiring hospitals to inform patients they may be eligible for charity care has passed the Washington State House Thursday.

By law, Washington hospitals can’t turn away people seeking emergency care because they’re not able to pay. The law also requires hospitals to screen low income patients to see if they’re eligible for charity care. 

But that’s not always enforced, said Lili Sotelo, directing attorney at Columbia Legal Services. And often it’s low-income immigrants who are affected.

“We know that people with unsettled immigration status or are undocumented do not have medical insurance. So if they’re low income, they’re the ones suffering the most from this denial of charity care,” Sotelo said.

Sotelo said patients often don’t know about a hospital’s charity care policy. Usually they end up in debt.

The House passed a bill requiring hospitals to let patients know they may qualify for a discount on some or all of their hospital bills. That statement must be posted in English and in the non-English language most commonly spoken in the area.

The bill now goes to the Senate for consideration. 

Year started with KUOW: 1994