The Legislature has approved a bill that allows hospitals to replace state budget cuts with federal matching money.

The Legislature has approved a bill that allows hospitals to replace state budget cuts with federal matching money.

The bill charges hospitals a fee, which would be sent into a special account. That money would attract federal matching payments, which could help cover the cost of caring for poorer people.

That system also would allow the state to save money in its general fund, which is facing a $2.8 billion deficit through June 2011.

Hospitals would have to pay the fee themselves, since the new law would prohibit them from passing the cost on to patients. The bill was approved Saturday by the House and Senate, and heads to Gov. Chris Gregoire for final approval.