05/07/2012 05:20 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Hickenlooper Signs Hospital Payment Assistance Program Into Law

On Monday, Gov. John Hickenlooper signed a bill into law that changes how uninsured patients are billed after receiving hospital treatment.

Senate Bill 134, or the Hospital Payment Assistance Program, would require hospitals to present reasonable payment plans for uninsured patients and to offer to screen them for their eligibility for financial assistance before turning to debt collectors. The hospitals would also have to make their charity care and payment plans clear and available on their websites and before a patient is discharged.

According to Health Policy Solutions, an independent publication that covers health policy, the bill would help relieve uninsured Coloradans of costs that are often even higher than what insured patients pay.

Hospitals have so-called "sticker prices" for every procedure and supply item. Insurance companies never pay full price, but individuals without insurance often get stuck being billed the sticker price or higher. (State Sen.) Aguilar said that in Colorado costs for uninsured people can soar to as high as 495 percent of the cost for hospital services and 842 percent of the cost for outpatient procedures. In other words, low-income and uninsured people who are least able to afford expensive health care often are billed the highest rates.

Colorado Health Institute data shows that 16 percent of Colorado's population in 2011 were uninsured, and that 85 percent of those who are uninsured cite costs that are too high as their reason.

The bill was sponsored by state Sen. Irene Aguilar
, M.D., D-Denver, and state Rep. Cindy Acree, R-Aurora.

Both women have made health care a focal point during their time in the state legislature.

Read SB 134 Hospital Payment Assistance Program in full:
SB 12-134 Hospital Payment Assistance Program