The Medical Way to Bankruptcy (2/20/12)
A New Model for Insolvency
The American health care system is failing. As it falls, many get hurt.
One of the biggest groups are those without health insurance, particularly those who receive emergency medical care in hospitals – including “charity” hospitals.
An article in the Febuary 13th New York Times what happens when people can’t pay emergency bills.
One nurse had a disabled son who needed emergency brain surgery. The son had been suddenly dropped from her regular health insurance in 2007 – without explanation.
There was no choice except to perform an immediate procedure. Since that time, his mother has tried to negotiate a payment plan for the $41,000 bill.
By law she can file for financial aid. Yet in her case, as in others, NY hospitals have declared the paperwork “unfinished.” Their paperwork somehow never qualifies.
Now the $41,000 bill has been sold to a collection agency. The person who answers the phone calls? Their brain damaged son, now 24.
Laws and Obfuscations
The old saying there’s a “right way, a wrong way, and the Army way” is particularly true in health care. Different insurers pay different amounts on what would otherwise be the same bills – every day. Hospitals doing charity care find themselves deeply in arrears.
So they charge the people without insurance through the nose – often much higher amounts than they charge insurance companies.
People often can’t afford them. Yet many still have some assets.
One way to collect? Put a lien on your home.
An emergency medical bill on a relative can then became the way to bankruptcy – and loss of your domicile.
Enforcement of financial aid laws for charity cases has been lax, to say the least. Many hospitals receiving tens of millions a year for “charity care” continue to dun patients who are on disability and welfare.
They don’t have the money.
Power and Process
The convolutions of American health care could not have been invented. They have evolved through a crazy quilt of insurers, hospitals, doctors, device companies, Big Pharma, Pharmacy Benefit Companies, and multiple government agencies that work more at cross purposes than together.
And now the money isn’t there.
At 2.7 trillion dollars, American health care takes in 17-18% of our GDP.
What will be the next evolution of the system? That depends on who has the power and who has the cash – and how they use it.
Since the Citizen’s United decision, corporations and unions have carte blanche to launch devastating attacks on politicians they don’t like. They can even do it in secret.
With at least 17% of the economy at stake, you can bet the campaign money will be there – when it’s needed. Health insurers alone will be able to put a mere 1% of their annual revenues and spend $10 million to support or denigrate every person in Congress – and still have more than $2 billion left to spend on the media.
The upshot – don’t expect bold political experiments to make health care work.
You’ll have to protect yourself. And your goal should be health, not health care.
Because affording health care will be harder than ever.
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