Advocacy Group Critiques Patient Debt Load In Indiana

A new survey has sparked an Indiana patient advocacy group to say hospitals in the state should earn their nonprofit status by providing more low-cost charity care, The Indianapolis Star reports. "Armed with a survey that showed close to half of hospital patients going into debt to pay their bills, the Consumer Action Coalition Education Fund and Indiana Legal Services said hospitals are doing too little to inform people about alternative payment plans." Medical debt is a large problem in the city, said the study's author and the education fund director. "The survey, which was not scientific, raises questions similar to those outlined in a December 2008 Indianapolis Star investigation that found that Central Indiana's four major nonprofit hospitals -- Community, St. Vincent, St. Francis and Clarian — devoted less than 3 percent of revenue each to charity care in 2006. Since then, hospital officials say they have improved charity care statewide." Hospitals there are required to provide charity care to maintain their tax-exempt status.

"The latest survey was conducted from September to June and involved polling 547 people at their homes and at health fairs after they had been treated at local nonprofit hospitals. … Close to half ... said they were not told by the hospital about any of its financial assistance programs. Just 50 respondents said they were informed about reduced costs for those with little or no insurance" (Lee, 7/27).

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