Washington State Attorney General Adds Collection Agencies to Providence-Swedish Hospital Lawsuit


Washington state Attorney General Bob Ferguson announced this week his office would be adding two collection agencies to his lawsuit against 14 hospitals in the Providence-Swedish Health Alliance (PSHA).

The lawsuit accuses the hospitals, including Providence Centralia Hospital and Olympia’s Providence St. Peter Hospital, of violating Washington state’s Collection Agency Act and Consumer Protection Act.

Under Washington state’s charity care laws, all hospitals in the state are required to forgive some or all of the out of pocket costs to qualified patients receiving essential healthcare.

“Families live in fear that an unexpected medical emergency could result in crushing medical debt,” Ferguson said. “Collection agencies cannot deceive Washingtonians about their legal right to access medical financial assistance. I fought to expand our charity care law so more individuals can have access to affordable health care — I am going to fight to ensure those laws are honored.”

According to Ferguson’s office, the two collection agencies, Harris and Harris and Optimum Outcomes, failed to inform patients about opportunities for discounts before collecting on their medical debt. At the time of the first collection notice, agencies are required by law to provide individuals with written notice they may be eligible for charity care, contact information for the relevant hospital and inform patients of how much debt relief they qualify for.

Ferguson’s lawsuit seeks $70 million in debt relief, including a full write-off of medical debt and refunds, including interest, for patients who did not receive financial assistance.

“The Providence family of organizations is extremely disappointed that the Office of the Washington State Attorney General has chosen to file inaccurate and unfair charges against us regarding our charity care and financial assistance practices,” Providence wrote in a February statement after the lawsuit was originally filed. “Serving every person who comes to us, regardless of ability to pay, is a central tenet of our mission as a not-for-profit organization. We take this responsibility seriously.”

PSHA claims no wrongdoing on its part, declaring it has complied with the law.

“Our practices comply with, and in many instances exceed, the requirements of Washington’s Charity Care Act,” Providence wrote in its statement. “In fact, our threshold for charity care eligibility is at least two times more generous than Washington state standards. When the AG’s office first raised their concerns with us two years ago, we cooperated fully and in good faith. That is why it is inconceivable that the AG has chosen now to file this complaint, which runs counter to the facts we provided to his office.”