Washington AG sues second hospital over charity care practices

The Washington Attorney General's office filed a lawsuit Thursday against Capital Medical Center in Olympia, Wash., alleging the 110-bed hospital's charity care practices violate state law.

The lawsuit alleges the for-profit hospital demanded payment from low-income patients without first telling them about the availability of charity care or determining if they qualified for charity care.

"Capital's unlawful collections practices prevented thousands of Washington's neediest patients from receiving charity care," Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson said. "I am committed to ensuring that all Washingtonians, regardless of income, have access to affordable care."

Between 2012 and 2015, Capital Medical Center consistently provided less charity care than the regional average. For instance, in 2014, only 0.37 percent of the hospital's adjusted revenue went to charity care, while the regional average was about 6 percent.

According to the complaint, the hospital's focus on aggressive collection came from its former CEO Jim Geist, who led Capital Medical Center for 7 years. He allegedly referred to collection and registration staff members as the emergency department's "money makers," and said the hospital needed to "get something out of" every patient, including the uninsured.  

The lawsuit seeks to ensure the hospital ceases its aggressive collection practices, properly screens patients for charity care and provides patients with notice of the hospital's charity care policies before requesting payment. The lawsuit also seeks civil penalties and restitution for low-income patients harmed by the hospital's collection practices.

"We are very disappointed to hear of the Office of Attorney General's recent filing against Capital Medical Center," Jeff Atwood, Capital Medical Center's senior vice president of marketing and communications, told The Olympian. "Even though Capital previously addressed the issues included in this lawsuit and is providing financial assistance [and] charity care to more individuals than state law requires, the attorney general filed this lawsuit. We remain committed to serving all of the people within our community."

Capital Medical Center is the second hospital the Washington Attorney General's office has sued in recent weeks. On Sept. 5, the office filed a lawsuit against St. Joseph's Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., alleging the hospital illegally withheld charity care from tens of thousands of patients since 2012.

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