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"Signs" of Hospital Access for Under- and Un-Insured New Yorkers

January 12, 2007

There should be new signs posted at your local hospital and they mean far greater access for both uninsured and underinsured New Yorkers. Effective this month, hospitals all across the state have to provide steep discounts to the 1 in 6 New Yorkers who have no health insurance. Adam Gurvitch with the New York Immigration Coalition says the state set limits on how much hospitals can charge, and hospitals must help New Yorkers apply for financial assistance.

"Not only for emergency room care, but now for the first time, private hospitals are going to need to let people access clinical care, specialty care, preventative care and help them to afford that care, instead of turning them away or charging outrageous deposits or payments upfront."

Theo Oshiro, a health advocate with the group Make the Road by Walking, explains that under the new law, hospitals not only have to provide discounts, they also have to cut back on overly aggressive collection practices.

"It tells hospitals that before sending someone to collection you have to inform them about possible financial assistance that the hospital has. It has to take some steps to ensure that the person is adequately informed before just sending them to collection and keeping them in that cycle of debt."

Adam Gurvitch adds the new law works on the premise that it's better to get early treatment.

"I think the real result is going to be healthier New Yorkers - financially healthier as well as physically healthier - and I think it's going to be cost-effective for the healthcare system overall."

The money to pay for all this comes from the nearly $1 billion fund that hospitals share to pay for the cost of uninsured patients. Starting this year, only hospitals that provide adequate discounts can dip into that fund.

Charles Lane/Eric Mack, Public News Service - NY