Hospitals Suing Patients?

Here’s a cheerful article from Forbes, official journal of the cluelessly over-privileged — there’s been an upswing of hospitals suing patients who are unable to pay their bills.

According to the Charlotte Observer, over a five year period (2005 to 2010), North Carolina hospitals – most of which are tax-exempt non-profits – filed more than 40,000 lawsuits against patients with overdue bills. In at least one stunning example of patient-engagement, the article highlighted a bill collector who told an elderly woman “You have the right to remain silent.” Most of the lawsuits wind up against people that were uninsured – a category that typically pays the highest possible retail rate for healthcare services.

You’ll love this part:

In another example of aggressive collections – this time reported by the New York Times – debt collectors are starting to appear earlier in the healthcare process – including bedside in the ER. One organization, publicly traded Accretive Health is “embedding collectors as employees in emergency rooms and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment.”

Whatever you do, don’t leave home without proof of insurance, if you have it. Consider having your policy information tattooed on your body somewhere, just in case. Otherwise, if you are unconscious, you could die before the hospital figures out who you are and whether you are insured.

But get this graph (click to enlarge):

Click to Enlarge

This is from the American Hospital Association, and it’s showing us the billions of dollars of unpaid bills hospitals are stuck with every year. And the thing I wish someone could get across to baggers and wingnuts and everyone else who doesn’t want to pay for “entitlements” is — we’re all paying those bills.

The average U.S. family and their employers paid an extra $1,017 in health care premiums last year to compensate for the uninsured, according to a study to be released Thursday by an advocacy group for health care consumers.

Families USA, which supports expanded health care coverage, found that about 37% of health care costs for people without insurance — or a total of $42.7 billion — went unpaid last year. That cost eventually was shifted to the insured through higher premiums, according to the group.

And of course this is a stupid, cost-inefficient way to pay for health care for the poor. A lot of those dollars represent uninsured people who didn’t seek medical help until some long-festering health problem was becoming critical, and also more expensive to treat. In theory, it ought to take less money out of our pockets to simply pay for health care for the poor with tax dollars, giving the poor better access to preventive and care for chronic illnesses.

But instead, too many of us scream stupidly about taxes and don’t notice that we’re already paying for this stuff, and we’re going to pay one way or another. Pretending that we aren’t paying for it is kind of stupid.

5 thoughts on “Hospitals Suing Patients?

  1. Pretending is what the Republicans do best– along with stamping their feet, holding their breath, and telling Big Fibs.

  2. Jeez,
    I sure hope the none of the ambulance-chasing lawyers gets into a car accident with one of the ambulance-chasing debt collectors, on their way to the hospital with the patient (because, mark my words, that’s next – “Free-range” debt collectors, trying to get money earlier and earlier in the insurance companies process).
    And that if they do, they all have health insurance!

    I’ve been unemployed for 2 years now, and I don’t think I would take a phone debt collectors job if it was offered (I haven’t seen any on the job sited I’m on, anyway). I would be terrible at it, and sure to be fired.
    But I can guarantee that, no matter how desperate my situation, I would never, ever take a job as an “Emergency Room” debt collecting vulture. THAT takes a certain kind of person – and I’m definitely NOT that sort of person…

    Yup, righties, we’ve got THE BEST health care system in the world! Just wonderful – if you have a job, and that job offers health care.
    And if not, you’re on your own.

    Oh, and you Banana Republicans who are determined to turn this country into a Banana Republic, be careful what you wish for – there are actually Banana Republics out there with “universal health care:”

    And we can’t have THAT, now can we?

  3. Heard about the latest ER neurology quick assessment ? It’s called the WWR metric, and is an inexpensive test for potential nervous system injury serious enough to require hospital admission. What’s that WWR stand for? Wallet Withdrawal Speed.

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