Human Rights Commission helps eliminate barriers to charity care

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The City of Tacoma’s Human Rights Commission recently formed a task force to study disparate language access to free or reduced-cost care at area hospitals.

The task force found Tacoma hospital systems are implementing changes to improve charity-care access for all eligible patients, yet barriers faced by Limited English Proficient (LEP) individuals are complex and eliminating barriers requires a sustained effort and structural changes.

To help address the barriers the task force developed and will begin providing charity-care trainings to patient navigators this month.

“Denying financial assistance for hospital services because a patient needs an interpreter does not align with Tacoma’s law or its values as a welcoming city,” said Brad Bates, who serves on the Commission and chairs the task force. “The navigator trainings will help eliminate language barriers to charity-care for Tacoma residents and support area hospitals’ compliance with state law.”

Under Washington law, hospitals have an affirmative duty to screen patients for charity-care eligibility. This duty includes providing written notification that free or reduced care may be available, interpreting charity-care information for LEP patients and ensuring that the charity-care application process is easy to understand. Hospitals must perform eligibility screening before attempting to collect payment.

“The Human Rights Commission was alarmed by the study released a year ago from Columbia Legal Services that found hospitals here and elsewhere in the state had failed to offer Spanish speakers access to charity-care far more often than English speakers,” Bates said. “The Commission felt that this was an issue that we could study and help address in our community.”

The Human Rights Commission was created by the City Council over 50 years ago to study and combat prejudice, bigotry and discrimination in the community. Through strengthening inter-group relationships, the Commission works to eliminate discrimination, and foster greater understanding, inclusion and justice for all individuals who live, work and visit Tacoma.

Any individual who believes that she, he or they have been unlawfully denied access to charity-care services based on national origin, including language, is encouraged to contact the City by calling (253) 591-5000, going online to cityoftacoma.org/TacomaFIRST or in-person Monday-Friday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Tacoma Municipal Building, 747 Market Street, Second Floor. Complaints must be filed within six months of the denial.

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