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Washington AG: PeaceHealth to return millions to patients who should have received financial assistance

PeaceHealth St. Joseph Medical Center entrance (November 2016). Photo: Whatcom News

WHATCOM COUNTY, Wash. — The Washington State Attorney General’s Office announced today, Monday, November 20th, that “PeaceHealth is refunding up to $13.4 million to more than 15,000 low-income patients of its five western Washington hospitals. The refunds are a result of an Attorney General’s Office investigation into the hospital chain’s financial assistance and collection practices.”

At the time of the unlawful conduct, Washington households making at or below 200% of the federal poverty level were eligible for free care or discounts on out-of-pocket hospital expenses. Washington State Attorney General’s Office (November 20, 2023)

The Attorney General’s Office began investigating PeaceHealth in 2020 and accused the hospital organization of failing to screen patients for charity care eligibility before attempting to collect payment from them.

According to a consent decree reportedly filed in Whatcom County Superior Court today, PeaceHealth is required to perform the following.

Within sixty (60) days of the entry of this Consent Decree, PeaceHealth shall refund patient payments made after January 1, 2018 by an agreed list of patients the PARO tool identified as likely to have income at or below 200% of the Federal Poverty Level either at the time of the transmission of a first or last bill to the patient. Patient refunds will include a onetime, non-compounded 12% simple interest payment.

Within sixty (60) days of the entry of this Consent Decree, PeaceHealth shall mail a notice to an agreed list of patients (i) identified by the PARO tool as likely to qualify for financial assistance prior to making payment and (ii) who made any payments to PeaceHealth on or after January 1, 2018 that will not be refunded pursuant to 4.2. This notice shall include a simple form for patients to complete to attest that their income qualified them for financial assistance at the time of their care.

PeaceHealth shall pay the State the amount of $2,000,000. The Attorney General shall use the funds for recovery of its costs and attorneys’ fees in investigating this matter, future monitoring and enforcement of this Consent Decree. Payment owing under this provision shall be in the form of a valid check paid to the order of the “Attorney General—State of Washington” and shall be due and owing within thirty (30) days of the entry of the Consent Decree. 

The average payment to these individuals will be more than $900. Eight Washingtonians will receive more than $10,000. Nearly 50 will see refunds of more than $5,000. Washington State Attorney General’s Office (November 20, 2023)

PeaceHealth operates hospitals in Bellingham, Friday Harbor, Longview, Sedro-Woolley and Vancouver.

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