We have years and years worth of evidence proving that Republicans don’t care about the little guy. They won’t vote to raise the minimum wage; on the rare occasion that they vote to increase a tax or create a new tax, it always falls hardest on working people and the poor. Republicans champion trickle-down economics…they just don’t care. But Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) broke from that mold when he blasted non-profit hospitals for suing poor people, and garnishing their wages, for failure to pay hospital bills.
Go ahead and take a moment to gather yourself. We had to do it, too. Chuck Grassley is shocked that hospitals would use harsh bill collection tactics on the poor. We’re astounded that a Republican would even take notice (except, maybe, to say that those patients should pull themselves up by their bootstraps, sell their cars and their clothes, and just pay those bills). In many ways, Grassley is your typical Republican; he voted for the Ryan budget, he voted against expanding the Child Health Insurance Program (CHIP); and, perhaps most surprising when looking at this particular situation, he voted against allowing patients to sue HMOs and collect punitive damages.
To his credit, Grassley has been working for the last ten years to hold non-profit hospitals more accountable, due to their tax-exempt status. Non-profit hospitals pay neither federal income tax, nor property tax, which helps them help out those who can’t afford to get care anywhere else. NPR and ProPublica have been looking at this issue for awhile, and found non-profit hospitals across six states that have sued hundreds of patients for non-payment. The worst, says NPR, is Heartland Medical Center in St. Joseph, M.O., which has sued thousands of patients, and has even gone so far as to charge interest on unpaid balances.
Grassley said, according to NPR, that these hospitals must earn their tax-exempt status by “taking care of people who couldn’t provide for their own health care.”
Heartland, which was recently rebranded Mosaic Life Care, doesn’t live up to Grassley’s idea of how a non-profit, charitable hospital should behave. It’s not just the lawsuits, it’s also how much money Mosaic/Heartland has made. Grassley’s letter to the hospital said, according to ProPublica:
Reports detail a number of instances where Mosaic failed to identify patients who would qualify for financial assistance and who have since been subject to abusive billing and collection practices. The practices appear to be extremely punitive and unfair to both low-income patients and taxpayers who subsidize charitable hospitals’ tax breaks.
Grassley added that Mosaic even charged full price for patients who were eligible for financial aid.
The majority of patients sent to collections or subjected to lawsuits by [your for-profit collection agency] were uninsured persons who were eligible for financial aid. Even so, many were charged full price for their medical care, in addition to fines and late fees. Mosaic spokesman Tracey Clark stated that many people do not receive charity care because it is reserved for patients who ‘seek it and legitimately work with us.’
Not only is this unethical, Grassley reminds Mosaic, it violates their requirements as a nonprofit, tax-exempt hospital.
This is in direct contradiction to the law, which requires charitable hospitals to create a publicly available financial assistance policy (FAP) and make ‘reasonable efforts to determine whether an individual is FAP-eligible before engaging in extraordinary collection actions.’
It appears that Mosaic may not be meeting the requirements to be a nonprofit, tax exempt hospital. In fact, Mosaic made a $45 million profit last year, while suing its patients for millions of dollars they could not afford.
It looks like Grassley’s problems are both with abuse of tax-exempt status, and with the hospital refusing to help the people they’re required to help under federal law. Either way, Mosaic/Heartland and other hospitals that engage in this insanity are starting to come under federal scrutiny, and it’s about time. We can only hope this doesn’t lead to shutting down charitable hospitals and further restricting access to care for our nation’s poorest people.
Featured image: Pixabay.Com.