NU Online News Service, Feb. 19, 2004, 12:03 p.m. EST – A small Hispanic consumer group says the idea of nonprofit hospitals giving huge price breaks to privately insured patients is immoral.[@@]

For years, U.S. managed care provider networks have been persuading doctors and hospitals to offer their patients steep discounts. In some cases, uninsured patients and insured patients who seek out-of-network care pay several times as much as patients who are receiving in-network care.

The Consejo de Latinos Unidos, East Los Angeles, Calif., has placed print ads in the Washington Times that criticize nonprofit hospitals for charging poor and moderate-income patients much higher rates than they charge insured patients.

The council cited the case of a Catholic hospital in Illinois that had its tax-exempt status revoked because of aggressive collection tactics and a big discrepancy between the rates it charged insured and uninsured patients. The hospital published a press release stating that the hospital would try to limit the rate difference for uninsured patients with incomes at or below 300% of the federal poverty level.

“But what about the family that makes 301% of the federal poverty level who can’t afford insurance?” the council ad asks. “That means you’ll continue to let hospitals?charge that family almost 4 times as much as they charge someone with insurance for the exact same care.”

K.B. Forbes, the council’s executive director, has accused nonprofit Catholic hospitals that charge uninsured patients much higher rates of engaging in sinful conduct that violates church teachings.

Many nonprofit “hospitals routinely price gouge working-class families that are not poor enough to qualify for Medicaid or charity care, yet not healthy enough or wealthy enough to have insurance,” Forbes says in the statement.

The Council for Affordable Health Insurance, Alexandria, Va., a group that represents many traditional indemnity health insurers, recently included a Consejo de Latinos Unidos member in a panel discussion in Washington about the differences in in-network hospital rates and the rates that hospitals charge uninsured patients and patients seeking care out-of-network.