Bill to remove barrier for immigrants seeking care moves out of committee

The Senate Committee on Health Care held a public hearing on Thursday for a bill aimed at removing barriers for immigrants seeking access to care. The bill, HB 4029, would prohibit non-profit hospitals from requiring individuals to apply for Medicaid prior to being screened for hospitals and health systems’ charity care programs.

 

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The primary purpose of the bill is to assist low-income patients in accessing charity care, regardless of their immigration status. Recent changes to the federal “public charge” rule – which are set to go into effect on February 24 – are cited as a deterrent for immigrants in accessing care.

“Recent federal rules have led to the concern that many low-income Oregonians who are seeking a pathway to citizenship will not seek the care to which they are legally entitled or through charity care, due to fear they will lose their pathway to citizenship,” said Rep. Alissa Keny-Guyer, a member of the House Committee on Health Care, in a statement. “People should not have to choose between healthcare and a pathway to citizenship.”

The bill builds off of legislation passed last year (HB 3076) that required non-profit hospitals to establish financial assistance policies, like free or discounted care, to low-income patients. HB 3076 also requires non-profit hospitals to screen patients for eligibility for their financial assistance policy.

“This fix to last year’s charity care bill will provide more certainty for immigrant communities and to individuals who otherwise legally qualify for services but through misunderstanding might worry that seeking health care would jeopardize themselves or a family member,” said Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon.

HB 4029 passed off the House floor on February 14 by a vote of 42-11, before moving over to the Senate.

During Thursday’s public hearing, representatives from SEIU Local 49 and Providence Health & Services testified in support of the bill.

In her testimony, Jessica Adamson, Director of Government Relations at Providence Health & Services, noted that Providence currently does not require Medicaid applications in order for patients to receive financial assistance, but they support that HB 4029 would make that the standard across all nonprofit hospitals.

“We’re already compliant; many hospital systems are. This is making sure that everyone is playing by the same set of rules, and frankly, enabling us to make health care accessible for everyone. We would also say that nothing in this bill prohibits hospitals from providing education or continuing to work to enroll people. It just simply removes a barrier in the event that someone has a legitimate concern given the implementation of public charge,” said Adamson.

The Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems (OAHHS), the Oregon Nurses Association, OHSU, and several other Oregon hospitals submitted testimony in support of the bill.

The measure passed out of the Senate health committee on Thursday by a vote of 3-1, with Sen. Dennis Linthicum noting that he would vote against the bill until he was able to further review its details.