AG sues Washington hospital over charity care: 8 things to know

The state of Washington is suing St. Joseph's Medical Center in Tacoma, Wash., over allegations it violated the state's Consumer Protection Act, since 2012, by illegally withholding charity care from tens of thousands of patients.

Here are eight things to know:

1. Attorney General Bob Ferguson filed the lawsuit alleging the medical center repeatedly violated state law.

2. Washington law requires all hospitals to screen patients for charity care eligibility, notify patients of their options and only require one income-related document to prove charity care eligibility. St. Joseph's was accused of violating all of these requirements.

3. The lawsuit further alleges St. Joseph's management knew about the violations and didn't fix the problem.

4. In addition, the AG accused the hospital of allowing its revenue management contractor to train and encourage employees to demand upfront payments and hide their right to apply for charity care.

5. A former employee told AG investigators she had to "encourage patients to pay a deposit by indicating that [she] could only provide them with a charity care application if they paid a deposit first."

6. The lawsuit claims St. Joseph's reported charity care numbers well below the regional average, at times up to 40 percent lower.

7. If accused, St. Joseph's may have to pay a civil penalty up to $2,000 per individual violation of the Consumer Protection Act.

8. The lawsuit comes after a Columbia Legal Services review detailed charity care deficiencies among 12 of 20 hospitals in Washington. St. Joseph's was not one of the 20 hospitals tested.

"As a nonprofit charitable organization, we are committed to providing the highest quality care to everyone who needs it. We carefully consider all charity care applications we receive and approve all who qualify," Cary Evans, vice president of communications & government affairs at CHI Franciscan Health, who owns St. Joseph's, told Becker's Hospital Review. "We are disappointed by today's lawsuit and, as always, we'll continue to provide care to absolutely everyone who needs it."

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Editor's note: This story was updated Sept. 6 to include CHI Franciscan Health's statement. 

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