ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) _ New York's 230 not-for-profit hospitals have adopted guidelines for discounted and free medical care to uninsured patients.

Instead of billing at full charges, the guidelines suggest billing the uninsured at lower rates like those paid by HMOs, insurers and government programs such as Medicaid and Medicare.

The Healthcare Association of New York State also says hospitals should offer deeply discounted or free care to lowest-income patients, who earn 200 percent or less of the federal poverty level, now about $9,000 a year for an individual.

``New York hospitals have long had charity care policies. We surveyed the membership and shared the best practices,'' Jeannie Cross, an association spokeswoman, said Monday. ``Hospitals in New York do about $2 billion in uncompensated free care every year. Some of that is just pure free care. Some is deeply discounted care.''

But the policies were not uniform, Cross said. The guidelines adopted by the association board were e-mailed to members last week.

Many hospitals help enroll poor patients in government programs such as Medicaid and the state's Family Health Plus and Child Health Plus, Cross said. At times, such as emergencies, hospitals have to treat patients first and ask questions later, she said.

The association acknowledged one motive was to head off proposed state legislation that would mandate lower charges or impose new controls on an $840 million state-administered pool that can cover such costs, according to the Wall Street Journal, which reported on the guidelines Monday.

Elisabeth Benjamin of the Legal Aid Society said the guidelines will help young singles and childless couples who don't qualify for government programs. But she said the 200 percent threshold is too low, and legislation will be needed to regulate hospital practices.