Washington's Charity Care Law

Hospitals provide charity care as part of their mission to serve their communities.  In addition, Washington is one of a few states that have a law that requires hospitals to provide charity care. While there is a federal law governing hospital's responsibility for screening and treating emergency patients, not many other states have enacted charity care legislation.  In cases where laws have been enacted, states have often developed mechanisms such as charity care pools to fund the care provided.  In Washington, however, there is no such mechanism.

Under the Washington law, each hospital must develop a charity care policy.  The law requires hospitals to provide free inpatient and outpatient care to very low income patients who have been treated in the hospital. It also requires that hospitals provide discounts to other low income patients.  Whether or not a person qualifies for financial assistance often depends on how the person's income compares to the federal poverty guidelines. 

Washington State Department of Health (DOH) is responsible for rule-making and monitoring related to charity care, and is required to report to the legislature and governor on an annual basis.

Additional information on the state's charity care law is provided below:

  1. Washington's charity care law is administered by the Washington State Department of Health.  If you have questions about the law, you can contact Randy Huyck at the Department of Health at 360-236-4210 or Randall.Huyck@DOH.WA.GOV  
  2. Washington's charity care law was established in 1989.  The law can be found in the Revised Code of Washington, Chapter 70 Section 170:
    http://apps.leg.wa.gov/RCW/default.aspx?cite=70.170   
  3. The rules implementing the law can be found in the Washington Administrative Code at Chapter 246, Section 453:   http://apps.leg.wa.gov/WAC/default.aspx?cite=246-453  
  4. The Washington State Department of Health does an annual report on charity care.  The latest annual report can be found at: http://www.doh.wa.gov/EHSPHL/hospdata/CharityCare/Default.htm  
  5. Washington hospitals usually evaluate a person's ability to pay based on income compared to federal standards in the federal poverty guidelines.  These guidelines are based on income earned and number in the household.  Hospitals may require a patient to document their income and also may evaluate additional assets.  If you are looking for information on a specific hospital's charity care policy, please contact that hospital's billing office. 

    The current federal poverty guidelines can be found at:  http://aspe.hhs.gov/poverty/11poverty.shtml

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