State lawmakers are considering a bill that would ensure patients who qualify receive financial assistance to help with their medical bills. (File photo by Lynne Terry/Oregon Capital Chronicle)

Oregon lawmakers are considering a bill aimed at ensuring low-income hospital patients receive free or discounted medical care.

House Bill 3320  would require nonprofit hospitals to make sure patients receive all the financial assistance, called charity care, that they are qualified for to help with medical bills. 

Hospitals are already required to offer charity care to patients who cannot afford their treatment, but lawmakers are concerned the system is failing patients – and leaving them with crushing medical debt. The New York Times reported last year that the Providence hospital system had staff repeatedly contact and pressure low-income patients to pay bills that financial assistance should have covered.  

The bill would require hospitals to screen patients with costs of $500 or more to see if they are eligible, refund payments to patients who are found eligible after they paid and provide an online system to apply for financial assistance and appeal denials.

“It really spells out how they have to check for eligibility for free or reduced care at the front end of things before bills are sent out,” Rep. Lisa Reynolds, D-Washington County,  chief sponsor of the bill and a pediatrician, said in an interview.

House Bill 3320 faces a vote in the Senate after easily passing the House on Tuesday with a bipartisan 54-4 vote. 

Charity care is different from the Oregon Health Plan, the state’s Medicaid program that insures nearly 1.5 million Oregonians. 

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems supported the bill. In submitted testimony, the group said Oregon hospitals spent $292 million on charity care services in 2021.

Oregon Capital Chronicle

Oregon Capital Chronicle is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Oregon Capital Chronicle maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Lynne Terry for questions: Follow Oregon Capital Chronicle on Facebook and Twitter.

Ben Botkin, Oregon Capital Chronicle

Ben Botkin covers justice, health and social services issues for the Oregon Capital Chronicle. He has been a reporter since 2003, when he drove from his Midwest locale to Idaho for his first journalism job. He has written extensively about politics and state agencies in Idaho, Nevada and Oregon. Most recently, he covered health care and the Oregon Legislature for The Lund Report.