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Washington AG sues Providence over alleged charity care law violations

Courtesy of Providence Health Care

Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson says Providence hospitals across the state illegally sought to collect money from thousands of patients that were eligible for charity care.

A lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court Thursday, said Providence-affiliated medical facilities, including two in Spokane, sought to collect money in violation of state law, or failed to ensure eligible low-income people received discounted care.

Specific allegations included failing to notify patients when they were eligible for free or reduced-cost care, and turning 54,000 patients over to debt collectors.

The lawsuit reads in part, “While Providence is fully aware of its charity care obligations to patients, many of its low-income patients are not. Without an understanding of their charity care rights, Providence’s patients may pay medical bills that are eligible for charity care or defer necessary care out of fear of the high cost of hospital care.”

In a statement, Providence disputed the accusations, calling them inaccurate and unfair. The hospital operator says it has worked internally and with the attorney general’s office for two years to address the issues in his complaint.

“Our practices comply with, and in many instances exceed, the requirements of Washington’s Charity Care Act,” the statement read. “In fact, our threshold for charity care eligibility is at least two times more generous than Washington state standards.”

Responding to Ferguson’s claims of state charity care law violations, Providence said it is the largest provider of charity care in Washington.

“Serving every person who comes to us, regardless of ability to pay, is a central tenet of our mission as a not-for-profit organization,” the company said.

Providence said it looked forward to defending itself in court.

Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks an injunction, restitution and millions of dollars in civil penalties.

Brandon Hollingsworth is your All Things Considered host. He has served public radio audiences for fifteen years, primarily in reporting, hosting and interviewing. His previous ports-of-call were WUOT-FM in Knoxville, Tennessee, and Alabama Public Radio. His work has been heard nationally on Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Here and Now and NPR’s top-of-the-hour newscasts.