Mid-Atlantic Health Law TOPICS
Requiring Hospitals To Provide Free Care
At a time when Maryland's hospitals have come under fire for not providing a sufficient amount of free care, it is instructive to see how this issue is playing out elsewhere.
More specifically, Franklin Memorial Hospital (FMH) recently lost its bid, in Franklin Memorial Hospital v. Harvey, to strike down regulations that require Maine hospitals to provide free patient care. FMH argued that Maine's Free Care Laws violated the 14th Amendment to the United States Constitution because the regulations deprive the hospital of personal property, including its medical supplies and the labor of its staff, without affording the hospital just compensation.
Maine's charity care guidelines (known as the Free Care Laws) require for-profit and not-for-profit hospitals and certain other providers to provide free care to individuals with income less than 150% of the federal poverty guidelines. Failure to provide such care can lead to a fine of $200-$500 per patient who is denied access to care.
While FMH said it was already providing, and would continue to provide, free care on a case-by-case basis, it believed that its property should not be "socialized and taken" under the Free Care Laws.
While the U.S. District Court for the District of Maine recognized that the Free Care Laws adjusted the benefits and burdens of economic life to promote the public good, the court ruled that the Free Care Laws did not constitute an actual taking of property, and, therefore, did not trigger protection under the U.S. Constitution.
Unwilling to accept the court's ruling, FMH filed an appeal to the U.S. Court of Appeals in December of 2008. Accordingly, hospitals in Maine and elsewhere will have to wait to see if FMH's arguments will or will not ultimately prevail.