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Washington State News

Providence’s Collection Agencies Broke the law While Collecting Medical Debts

SEATTLE — Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced that he expanded his lawsuit against 14 Providence-affiliated hospitals, including five Swedish hospitals, by adding two collection agencies that worked for the hospitals. The Attorney General’s underlying consumer protection lawsuit stems from Providence’s charity care and collections practices impacting tens of thousands of patients and hundreds of millions of dollars in medical debt.

When sending a first collection notice, collection agencies must include written notice that an individual may be eligible for charity care. Acting as Providence’s agents, Harris & Harris and Optimum Outcomes illegally failed to inform patients about the availability of charity care discounts before aggressively collecting on their medical debt. These collection agencies also illegally failed to inform patient of their right to request certain information about their debt.

The amended lawsuit, filed in King County Superior Court, asserts Harris & Harris, and Optimum Outcomes, violated the Washington state Collection Agency Act and Consumer Protection Act.

Washington’s charity care law protects Washingtonians from out-of-pocket hospital costs. The protections apply to both insured and uninsured patients. It requires all hospitals — for-profit and non-profit, public and private — to forgive some or all of the out-of-pocket cost of essential health care for patients who qualify. Thanks to legislation Ferguson requested, which took effect July 1, all Washingtonians within 300 percent of the federal poverty level are eligible for financial assistance, with discounts up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level for the vast majority of Washington hospital beds.

“Families live in fear that an unexpected medical emergency could result in crushing medical debt,” Ferguson said. “Collection agencies cannot deceive Washingtonians about their legal right to access medical financial assistance. I fought to expand our charity care law so more individuals can have access to affordable health care — I am going to fight to ensure those laws are honored.”

If you paid for medical services or are in collections for a medical bill from a Providence or Swedish hospital or Kadlec Regional Medical Center, and believe you may be eligible for charity care, contact Attorney General’s Office Investigator Bau Vang at 206-516-2989 or by email at bau.vang@atg.wa.gov.