Financial assistance

Washington sues Swedish and Providence hospitals over collections

SEATTLE — Washington has filed a lawsuit against five Swedish hospitals and nine affiliated with Providence, alleging they aggressively collected payments from thousands of low-income Washingtonians who should have been eligible for charitable care.

According to the lawsuit, filed Thursday in King County Superior Court, hospitals sent collection notices to more than 50,000 Washingtonians who were low-income and legally entitled to charitable care, committing thousands of health care law violations. consumer protection in the process.

As the Attorney General’s Office (AGO) explains, Washington’s charitable care law means that low-income residents don’t have to pay hospital costs whether they’re insured or not. Despite this, according to the lawsuit, Swedish hospitals trained their employees to “aggressively collect payments without regard to a patient’s eligibility for financial aid“, telling employees “do not accept the first no”.

Attorney General Bob Ferguson and his team discovered the problem after receiving several complaints from patients who felt they had been overburdened.

“Ferguson’s lawsuit alleges that Providence, Swedish and Kadlec have developed and encouraged a corporate culture that prioritizes collection over charitable care, aggressively attempting to collect payment at the time of treatment and continuing to collect after the treatment even when hospitals know a patient is eligible for financial assistance,” the AGO said in a press release. “The Attorney General’s Office investigation found that hospitals are training employees to request payment in a way that implies payment is expected, while obscuring a patient’s right to seek charitable care.”

Since 2018, hospitals have sent 54,000 patient accounts for debt collection, even though those patients were eligible for financial aid. Together, the 54,000 patients accumulated more than $70 million in debt that they should have been able to cancel.

“Charitable care helps low-income families avoid crushing medical debt by making financial assistance available to those who qualify,” Ferguson said. “Hospitals cannot mislead Washingtonians about their legal right to access medical financial assistance. They must obey the law and ensure low-income patients have access to the resources they need.”

The lawsuit alleges the illegal collections took place at Swedish Health Services hospitals in Seattle, Issaquah and Edmonds, as well as Providence Health & Services Washington nonprofits in Spokane, Everett, Olympia, Chentralia, Chewelah. , Colville and Walla Walla. The lawsuit demands that hospitals immediately stop these collection tactics and offer refunds, plus interest, to the thousands of patients who paid for care when they should have received financial assistance. It is also asking for debt relief or forgiveness for patients who still owe money.