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Update Jan. 7, 2019

UPMC Pinnacle provides free medically necessary care to people who don't qualify for insurance that covers it and have family income below 250 percent of the federal poverty level. It also provides financial assistance up to 400 percent of the federal poverty level. 

This story was originally published July 8, 2016.

Hospital financial assistance policies at some nonprofit hospitals just got simpler and more generous, thanks in part to President Barack Obama's health care law.

In response to a provision that took effect July 1, local nonprofit hospitals now offer medically necessary care for free to patients with household incomes under certain limits.

That limit is 200 percent of the federal poverty level at WellSpan Ephrata Community Hospital, and 300 percent at Lancaster General Hospital and Hershey Medical Center.

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The federal poverty level is currently $11,880 for a single person, $24,300 for a family of four and $40,890 for a family of eight.

Additionally, WellSpan and LGH offer discounts up to 300 and 400 percent of the federal poverty level, respectively.

“We hope that the deeper discounts will help individuals be able to have better access to our system,” said Rick Harley, vice president of treasury management services at WellSpan Health.

In the past, Harley said, different parts of WellSpan had different policies for free and discounted care. Now the health system has just one policy.

“The most significant change is that patients now have 240 days from the first statement date to request financial assistance,” said LGH spokeswoman Rosanne Placey. “Previously, we would review any outstanding balance that had not been sent to a collection agency.”

Placey said the hospital aligned its policy with that of Penn Medicine, which it joined last year. According to her, the hospital does not expect the policy adjustment to affect its finances.

Hershey spokesman Scott Gilbert reported a similar expectation, saying in the past, patients below 300 percent of the federal poverty level were often unable to pay despite steep discounts.

The free care and discounts do come with some caveats.

For instance, WellSpan requires that patients exhaust all insurance resources for which they are eligible, including Medicaid. And LGH requires that recipients have no more than $10,000 per adult in the bank.