"Many low- and moderate-income families qualify for charity care but are not receiving it," notes Maryellen Hayden, head organizer with ACORN (Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now).
Most families getting by on the minimum wage qualify for significant breaks on medical bills, Hayden says, but they often aren't aware of it. And hospitals don't do enough to make them aware, she contends. So such families get socked with medical bills they can't handle on their own, and see disastrous results: collections agents hounding them, liens put on their homes, and severe damage to their credit ratings.
ACORN has invited all of City Council, County Council, the county's state legislators, representatives from major local hospital systems, and all interested citizens to a town hall meeting to discuss connecting needy patients with charity care programs, and to hash out new, clear guidelines for the administration of such programs.
"We have to figure out where in our society this medical care is going to come from," Hayden says. "The hospitals are getting major tax breaks because they are nonprofts. They need to spend their fair share toward health care, toward those stuck in the middle."
One such stuck-in-the-middle ACORN member, for instance, was forced into loans at astronomical rates when his minimum-wage, benefit-less job couldn't help him pay for a both gall-bladder surgery and a replacement for the collapsed roof of his house.
Lead ACORN organizer Ruthisha Johnson says that, so far, city councilors Bill Peduto, Sala Udin, Doug Shields and incoming member Tonya Payne, county councilor Brenda Frazier and state Rep. Jake Wheatley said they planned to attend the meeting, along with a representative of UPMC.
UPMC did not return a call for comment by press time.
"We are hopeful that UPMC is going to present a charity care plan that can work," Hayden says. "The hospitals need to equally share the burden of charity care."
"Health Care Access and the Health Care Crisis in Our Communities," 7 p.m. Thu., Aug. 18, Allegheny Unitarian Universalist Church, North Side. 412-441-6551.