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Illinois hospitals would be required to provide free surgeries and other inpatient care to many uninsured poor people under a bill the Legislature passed Tuesday, a mandate already on the books in eight other states.Under the proposal, urban hospitals would have to provide free treatment to patients with incomes below 200 per cent of the federal poverty guidelines. That’s about $46,000 for a family of four.
Rural hospitals would have to give free care to patients with incomes below 125 per cent of the poverty guidelines. That’s about $29,000 for a family of four. Care would have to be deemed medically necessary and patients would have to apply for financial assistance.
Opponents had worried it would overburden hospitals with new patients.
“Once you tell someone they have access to this hospital, that emergency room without limits, it’s been our experience … that the emergency room becomes their doctor’s office,” Sen. Dale Righter, R-Mattoon, said Tuesday during a committee hearing on the bill. “Doesn’t this take us a step backwards?”
The Illinois Hospital Association supported the bill. Spokesman Danny Chun said patients affected already are being cared for in hospitals.
“Many hospitals are now voluntarily providing charity care that would meet the requirements of this proposed legislation,” Chun said. “However, there are some hospitals, which would have to do more charity care.” He said he didn’t have figures on how many hospitals would have to do more under the proposal.
Eight states and the District of Columbia already require something similar, Chun said.
Democratic Gov. Pat Quinn supports the measure and plans to sign it.
The measure also would authorise Attorney General Lisa Madigan to adopt standards for the applications hospitals use for financial assistance, with input from the hospital association.
Ann Spillane, the attorney general’s chief of staff, said the measure would give hospitals a solid guideline and minimum standard for setting their own policies. That clarity would also make it easier for low-income patients to access quality care and work through any financial forms.
“It is a big step forward and it is important to have these built-in, bright line statutes that can be enforced,” Spillane said.
Six years ago, Madigan proposed legislation that would have required tax-exempt hospitals to spend 8 per cent of their annual operating costs on free or discounted care. That proposal stalled in the Legislature.
On Tuesday, the Senate passed a separate bill that clarifies what hospitals must do to qualify for valuable property tax exemptions and creates a new tax credit for investor-owned, for-profit hospitals. The House previously passed the bill, which now goes to Quinn who supports the measure.
Both bills were part of the ambitious package of legislation aimed at closing a $2.7 billion budget hole that threatens health services for the state’s poor and elderly.
The bill is SB3261.