Capital Medical Center in Olympia is the second hospital Attorney General Bob Ferguson says unlawfully held back charity care from patients. Ferguson filed a similar complaint against a Tacoma hospital.
Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed a lawsuit Thursday alleging an Olympia hospital, Capital Medical Center, violated state law by withholding charity care from low-income patients.
Ferguson filed a similar complaint against a Tacoma hospital earlier this month. “I hope the industry is paying attention,” he said then.
In the suit filed in Thurston County, Ferguson alleges the 110-bed for-profit Olympia hospital trained staff to pressure patients for upfront payments without providing notice of charity care or screening patients for eligibility as required by state law.
Capital’s former CEO reportedly told staff members not to let uninsured patients “leave without paying anything,” according to the complaint.
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State law requires hospitals to provide free care to patients below the federal poverty level and discounted care to patients with incomes up to twice the federal poverty level.
Capital is a subsidiary of RCCH HealthCare Partners based in Tennessee, which operates 16 hospitals and health centers in 12 states.
“We are very disappointed to learn of the Office of the Attorney General’s recent filing against Capital Medical Center,” said Jeff Atwood, senior vice president of marketing and communications for RCCH.
“When Capital learned of the Attorney General’s concerns with its financial assistance/charity care program, Capital made changes to that program in 2016,” Atwood’s statement said.
“We were then in discussions with the AG’s office and understood an amicable resolution was the next step. Even though Capital previously addressed the issues included in this lawsuit and is providing financial assistance/charity care to more individuals than state law requires, the Attorney General filed this lawsuit,” he said.
In response Ferguson said, “If somebody who has flagrantly violated our charity care laws expects an ‘amicable resolution,’ they’re talking to the wrong Attorney General.”
Ferguson’s lawsuit focuses on hospital practices from 2012 through 2016.
Capital provided less care than other hospitals in Southwest Washington in recent years, Ferguson alleged.
In 2015, hospitals in Southwest Washington provided an average of 3.2 percent of their adjusted revenue in charity care. Capital reported 0.44 percent of its adjusted revenue went to charity care, according to the attorney general.
Capital staff did not provide patients with notice of their charity-care rights, Ferguson alleged, instead training staff to only discuss charity care with patients who requested it.
Even when one patient requested charity-care information, a Capital financial counselor told her she needed to commit to making a payment in advance if she wanted her appointment to go forward, according to the lawsuit.
Capital also required up to eight forms of income verification, Ferguson alleged. State law requires only one form, such as a pay stub or tax statement.
The lawsuit seeks restitution for low-income patients and civil penalties, as well as changes in Capital’s practices.
Washington State Hospital Association officials say they’ve addressed some obstacles to charity care by creating a single-page application form, available in multiple languages, that 91 of the state’s 99 nongovernmental hospitals use. Capital Medical Center is listed by the association as one of the participating hospitals.