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Hospitals’ openness on charity care urged

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North Carolina hospitals provided $694 million in free care in 2008, yet only 41 of the state’s 112 hospitals post comprehensive charity-care policies online, a new study says.

The study, by the N.C. Justice Center, recommends that every hospital in the state post a comprehensive charity-care policy online, including income-eligibility levels, assets limits, and catastrophic discounts.

“This step would help struggling families understand discount programs at nearby hospitals before seeking care,” the study says.

All 112 hospitals maintain websites, with 72 of them currently posting some information about financial-assistance policies online, says the study, How Charitable are North Carolina’s Hospitals?

The study gives special recognition to hospitals that provide charity-care levels that exceed the cost of living for their regions.

Those hospitals include Novant Health, UNC Health Care, University Health Systems of Eastern North Carolina, Iredell Memorial Hospital, The Outer Banks Hospital, High Point Regional Health System and Margaret R. Pardee Memorial Hospitals.

And it recommends that hospitals should strive to provide free care to families earning less than 200 percent of federal poverty level, and provide some discount to families earning less than 300 percent of federal poverty level.

It also recommends that hospitals consider a “more nuanced” measure of poverty, such as the “Living Income Standard,” to calculate charity-care policies.

And it says hospitals should thoroughly screen patients, including those entering through the emergency room, to check eligibility for public programs or charity-care discounts.

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