Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott issued an AG Opinion
on indigent health care yesterday. It seems the Amarillo Hospital District sold its hospital, Northwest Texas Hospital, to Universal Health Systems of Amarillo, Inc., in 1996. UHS acquired, along with the hospital, the county's indigent-care obligations pursuant to Chapter 61 of the Health and Safety Act. Since then, UHS has noticed that some patients appear to have voluntarily waived their right to obtain employer-sponsored health insurance, preferring instead to obtain hospital services as indigent patients rather than as insured patients. UHS wanted to know whether they could require these patients to sign up for health insurance benefits with their employers so that UHS could obtain reimbursement for services rendered. The AG's answer, in a word, was "no." Here's the rationale:
In this case, the [Indigent Health Care and Treatment] Act does not contemplate that a health care provider may require an applicant for indigent health care to obtain insurance through the applicant's employer in certain circumstances. Section 61.007(5) of the Health and Safety Code, requiring an applicant to provide information regarding the "existence of insurance coverage," is phrased in the present tense. Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 61.007(5) (Vernon 2001). It is concerned with an applicant's coverage at the time of the application, not the availability of coverage or the potential for coverage in the future. The Department's [i.e., the Department of State Health Services'] rule requiring an applicant to list information about any medical insurance household members "receive," see 25 Tex. Admin. Code § 14.101(a)(3)(E) (2004), similarly focuses on whether the applicant is insured at the time he or she applies for indigent health care. No other provision in chapter 61 of the Health and Safety Code or in the Department's rules expressly or implicitly authorizes a hospital district to require an applicant to purchase health insurance as a prerequisite to receiving indigent health care.
Moreover, absent a provision in the special law creating it, a hospital district has no authority to require an applicant to obtain insurance before the applicant is eligible for indigent health care. "A hospital district has only such authority as is expressly conferred on it by statute or necessarily implied from the authority expressly conferred to effectuate the express powers." Tex. Att'y Gen. Op. No. JC-0068 (1999) at 1. Without express authority, a hospital district may not adopt a standard for determining an applicant's income and resources that is stricter than the Department's standard. See Tex. Health & Safety Code Ann. § 61.052(a)(2) (Vernon 2001); see also id. § 61.052(e) (stating that, if the Department changes its income and resources requirements so that the hospital district's standards become stricter than the Department's, the hospital district must change its standard to at least comply with the Department's requirements). Because neither the statute nor the Department's rules permit a requirement that an applicant purchase insurance, any such hospital district requirement would be more restrictive than the state requirements and, absent express authority, would be impermissible under the statute.