Forgiving Debts Not Enough Help for the Poor, State Official Says
December 06 2005
YALE-New Haven Hospital’s recent action to close 18,000 open collection cases against its patients is not nearly enough to help the state’s poor deal with health care cost issues, testified Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal on Nov. 15 before the Human Services Committee of the New Haven Board of Alderman.
Blumenthal called on Yale-New Haven Hospital to better assist needy patients in finding financial resources to pay for their hospital bills and eliminate unnecessary barriers for those who are eligible to access free patient care. “If debts in 18,000 open files are being forgiven, many of these patients probably were eligible for hospital bed fund assistance and never should have been burdened with any debt,” Blumenthal testified at the hearing. He asked that the hospital help restore the patients’ credit ratings.
In 2003, Blumenthal filed a lawsuit against Yale-New Haven Hospital, alleging the hospital failed to use millions of dollars in free bed funds and instead tried to collect payments from eligible poor patients. Also in 2003, Blumenthal worked with state Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney to pass a state bill that limits actions hospitals can take to collect bills from uninsured patients, such as prohibiting hospitals from referring a patient to a debt collector if the patient is eligible for free or reduced price care. The bill also limits the interest rate to 5 percent per year on unpaid hospital debt.
Almost 200,000 Connecticut residents are uninsured, Blumenthal testified at the hearing. That lack of insurance often leaves these patients dealing with debt collectors when faced with medical crises. Blumenthal asked that hospitals publicize charitable programs, such as hospital bed funds, which can help poor patients pay medical costs and avoid incurring large health care debt.