I was listening to NPR on my drive home from work. The story of the hour was dedicated to a hospital suing lots of patients for unpaid medical bills. This particular hospital happens to be the dominant player in our region. In fact, it’s the hospital I’ve worked with for more than 25 years!
There is a lot to think about here. The article is lengthy and there are many points. The audio version is eight minutes long (see the link).
In particular, one part of the article stood out:
Kirchgessner says he plans to argue that hospital contracts, often signed under duress during a medical crisis, aren’t valid. Makary is ready and willing to be an expert medical witness, to testify about whether there are hospital markups or unnecessary procedures.
But Kirchgessner hasn’t had a chance to defend a Mary Washington case in court yet, he says, because each time he gets close to a trial date, the hospital withdraws its case against the patient.
It’s an interesting theory. The hospital’s nervousness makes me wonder.
Anyone who has ever been in the hospital emergently understands a couple of things:
A lot of forms get shoved in front of you to sign. Most of them involve money.
There is definitely an element of duress. You are sick. You might die.
You really have no idea how much anything is going to cost. …And, if you ask, the hospital will say it has no idea, either.
You also don’t know how much your insurance will cover and how much you will have to pay.
You cannot even be sure the doctors participate in your insurance.
One thing you can be sure of: No matter how good your insurance, you will be surprised by a lot of bills and you will end up paying far more than you ever imagined.
The billing process plays out over many months or even years.
Emergent healthcare is not something you can negotiate. When you are in the ER, you are totally at the mercy of the hospital. There is no deal and counter-deal. There is no walking away.
You sign now or you die. This is a contract where the hospital holds all of the cards.
I’ve written and cartooned previously about the insane discounts given to insurance companies compared to the mere pittance offered to cash patients.
Yes, hospitals have to get paid or they go out of business. Yet, the current system is a total mess.