HCA changes policies give more financial aid

The hospital chain HCA recently announced plans to change its charitable care policies to provide financial relief to more of its charity patients and give needs-based discounts to uninsured patients who receive nonelective care at its hospitals.

The planned changes, which are subject to approval by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, would allow patients receive nonelective care at an HCA hospital who have income at or below 200% of the federal poverty level to be eligible for charity care, a standard it said about 70% of its hospitals have already been using.

HCA also has issued a revised policy on its criteria for filing liens or garnishment of wages of patients who have not paid their hospital bills. The policy prohibits placement of liens on primary homes worth less than $300,000 or garnishment of wages for patients who have a proven inability to pay.

For more information, visit the HCA web site at www.hcahealthcare.com

More ED crowding seen at large, urban hospitals

Hospitals experiencing the most problems with emergency department (ED) crowding are located in large metropolitan areas with high population growth and a large percentage of uninsured people, according to a recent report by the federal government’s General Accounting Office (GAO).

Facilities in areas with populations of 2.5 million or more went on diversion a median of 162 hours in fiscal 2001, compared with nine hours for hospitals in areas with populations of fewer than 1 million people.

Hospitals in areas with higher percentages of uninsured had almost twice as high a median percentage of patients leaving the ED prior to medical evaluation, another measure of ED crowding the GAO studied.

While two of every three EDs reported going on diversion at some point during the year, fewer than one in 10 hospitals was on diversion more than 20% of the time.

For more information, go to www.gao.gov. Click on "For the Press," and enter the document number GAO-03-460 under "Finding GAO documents."