Coalition for a Humane Hopkins Launches “Know Your Rights” Effort to Inform Patients of Eligibility for Financial Assistance
This week the Coalition for a Human Hopkins launched a grassroots initiative to inform patients if they are eligible for reduced cost or free health care at Johns Hopkins Hospital. Coalition members kicked off the effort with tabling in front of the hospital and distribution of the brochure, Know Your Rights! What you need to know about financial assistance and medical debt.
“I don’t want others to experience what I’ve gone through to access the health care I need. Hopkins has the resources, the mission and the obligation to provide care. It is shameful for them to sic collections agencies on sick people.” said VerdellClark, a coalition member and former patient who was sued by Johns Hopkins for medical debt. “I want patients to know their rights, to know if they are eligible for reduced cost or care at no cost before they get treated.”
The new Know Your Rights! brochure explains that patients whose family income falls below certain levels have a legal right under Maryland law to financial assistance, called charity care, that pays for all or part of their medical bills. This assistance can be accessed even after the date of treatment. Patients enrolled in various social service programs are automatically qualified for charity care. These include: Free or reduced-cost lunch program, SNAP, WIC, Low-income-household energy assistance, and Primary Adult Care Program (PAC).
The brochure also clarifies that while Johns Hopkins confusingly indicates in some of its hospital signage that only citizens or permanent residents in the United States are eligible for charity care, the hospital’s full financial assistance policy states that JHH may extend medical services to “residents with demonstrated financial need, regardless of citizenship, in neighborhoods surrounding JHH and Bay view.” In addition, undocumented residents who are ineligible for state or federal health insurance programs may also access services through The Access Partnership (TAP).
The Coalition for a Humane Hopkins’ goal is to hold Johns Hopkins accountable to its obligation as a non-profit hospital in Maryland to provide charity care to patients that meet the state’s eligibility requirements for financial assistance. The coalition formed last year in response to the hospital’s alarming rate of lawsuits, 2,400 since 2009, against patients for alleged medical debt.
The report, Taking Neighbors to Court: Johns Hopkins Hospital Medical Debt Lawsuits, published in May 2019 by the Coalition for a Humane Hopkins, National Nurses United and the AFL-CIO, revealed JHH’s widespread use of hardball tactics such as wage and property garnishments and years’-long pursuit of patients just to collect a median amount of $1,089 of alleged medical debt per patient in neighborhoods close to the hospital. JHH lawsuits against patients who live within these sampled zip codes largely affected African American Baltimore residents, accounting for 86% of defendants where demographic information is available.
“As a nurse I know how much toll financial stress can take on my patients. They are already contending with poor health or a slow recovery and on top of that they are worried about making ends meet for themselves and their families,” said Danny Andazola, an RN in the MICU. “It is particularly tragic to see this happen with patients that had no idea they were eligible for charity care. As a patient advocate, I urge Hopkins to step up efforts to inform patients. In the meantime, I’m excited that the coalition is proactively informing patients of their rights.”
“Rather than inform low income patients of their eligibility for financial assistance, Hopkins instead punishes them with lawsuits for medical debt they never should have incurred in the first place,” said coalition member Ashley Hufnagel of the Maryland Poor People’s Campaign. “By law, Hopkins should make this information widely available, but they bury it and make it inaccessible. Their priority is profit and prestige in the international arena, not the health of their neighbors in Baltimore. That’s why the coalition has decided to step in and let patients know their rights.”
“As a Quaker I find it repugnant that Hopkins is suing patients for costs that the government is covering. This is not in alignment with the Quaker values the institution was founded on,” said Logan Endow, a member of the coalition, as well as Stony Run Friends Meeting. “It’s easy for Hopkins to change this predatory practice and they have a legal and ethical obligation to do so. Meanwhile, we are going to make sure that people in Baltimore know when they are eligible for charity care so they can get the care they deserve.”