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December 21, 2015

Court Finds Wash. Hospital Violated Charity Care Law

A Washington state judge has ruled that a nonprofit medical center breached state law by demanding payment from indigent patients before providing treatment, the Yakima Herald reports. Yakima County Superior Court Judge Susan Hahn issued a partial summary judgment December 14 in favor of the plaintiffs in a class-action lawsuit against Yakima Regional Medical and Cardiac Center.

Judge Hahn said the Central Washington facility "routinely" violated the state's Charity Care Act, which requires hospitals to proactively offer free or discounted care to any patient living below 200 percent of the federal poverty level, and that its failure to comply with the law represented a breach of contract with the patients who brought suit. She also compelled the hospital to provide documents sought by the plaintiffs.

Yakima Regional provided charity care worth about 1.45 percent of its patient revenue in 2013, according to state records, about a third of the average rate for Central Washington hospitals. Last week's ruling clears the way for court consideration of an additional claim by plaintiffs that the center violated the state's Consumer Protection Act, a finding of which could substantially increase damage awards. The hospital's owner, Community Health Systems, has declined to comment on the case.