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The Hospital Uninsured Patient Discount Act, a new law that caps hospital bills for qualified uninsured patients in Illinois, became effective April 1.

“This law reflects one of the most aggressive efforts by any state in the country to address health-care accessibility and affordability for the uninsured, said Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. “[T]his new law limits the financial strain caused by an unexpected illness or a medical emergency so that necessary hospital services are no longer out of reach for uninsured patients.”

Under the new law, hospital charges to eligible uninsured patients cannot exceed the cost of the services plus 35 percent. To be eligible, uninsured persons must fall within 600 percent of the Federal Poverty Level ($132,000 for a family of four in 2008) in non-rural hospitals, according to the Attorney General’s office.

Before the Act took effect, uninsured patients were often charged “dramatically higher rates for hospital services than insured patients, whose rates are negotiated by insurance companies,” said the Attorney General’s Office in a prepared statement. “On average, hospitals charge uninsured patients rates that exceed 200 percent over cost.”

The new law also caps the amount that hospitals can collect from eligible uninsured patients in a 12-month period to 25 percent of the patient’s family income. A hospital may exclude a patient from this cap if the patient has substantial assets, defined as 600 percent of the Federal Poverty Level in urban areas. Certain assets are excluded from the computation.

“This law will provide substantial relief for thousands of hard-working individuals seeking to pay their hospital bills,” said State Senator Jeffrey Schoenberg, a sponsor of the legislation.