Articles Posted in BANKRUPTCY

debtmedicalnytjuly2021-300x250A scandal of the U.S. health system may be far worse than imagined, with the medical debt sold to collection agencies alone amounting to a staggering $140 billion.

The $140 billion estimate came from researchers who published in a medical journal and found that such unpaid sums had increased significantly from an $84 billion calculation in a similar 2016 study, the New York Times reported (see excellent chart, courtesy of the newspaper).

The newspaper noted the debt estimate is an ugly number hanging over the finances of tens of millions of patients who are too often poor and uninsured — debtors who could benefit significantly, if politicians in their states had expanded Medicaid coverage for them as allowed under the Affordable Care Act:

aidpoor-300x200Cash is king. That truism may hold for thrifty savers and businesses and individuals buffeted by economic uncertainty. But this realistic view also may be turned on its head for poorer, uninsured patients trying to cope with bankrupting medical bills.

That’s because hospitals — a leading driver of health care costs — gouge with their premium prices those who pay with cash, the Wall Street Journal reported.

The newspaper, working with previously secret pricing data that institutions across the country must disclose now, has given consumers yet another eye-popping view of the elasticity of hospital charges and how they punish the poor:

billsmedical1-300x200Federal regulators have taken a welcome initial step to bar insurers and health care providers from holding patients hostage in their all-too-common fee fights, with draft rules out now to crush “surprise” medical bills.

The politically riven, do-nothing Congress shocked critics by ending 2020 with an actual new law, included in legislation dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, that gave patients new protection from nightmares created when insurers and big corporation sought to reduce their health care costs with so-called narrow networks of pre-approved health care providers.

This scheme allowed insurers and companies to negotiate with doctors, labs, hospitals, and others for preferential prices, and, effectively, guarantees of patient business, in exchange. Patients began howling when their long-time caregivers were excluded from insurer networks, which also often also excluded big-name practitioners as well as well-known academic medical centers and big hospitals.

axioshospitaldebtsuitchart-300x261While medical debt menaces far too many patients, especially those who already struggle because they are poor, sick, and injured, big hospitals are too willing to exploit the legal system with aggressive collection efforts that generate little revenue but lots of grief for patients.

Those are some of the takeaways from a raft of articles and deeper digs into medical debt from the likes of the news site Axios (see here, here, here, and here), the Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative site ProPublica, and the news columns of the Wall Street Journal.

Axios and ProPublica have built their reports around commendable work by researchers at Johns Hopkins medical school, who followed up their important 2019 published study on Virginia hospitals suing their patients.

uvahealth-300x200The University of Virginia health system has decided to end decades of draconian bill collection, giving a reprieve to tens of thousands of patients and their families who faced harsh legal actions to recover crushing medical debt.

The taxpayer-supported institution proclaimed itself “proud” that it will stop aggressively suing its own employees, university students, and hard-working and poor Virginians after they experienced illness and injury serious enough to require hospitalization.

The university jammed the state courts with these actions, as well as liens against properties — including those of family members and not just patients themselves. The process to clear the debt-collection backlog may take a year or more. The health system “will release all liens and judgments filed against all households making less than 400% of the federal poverty level, or about $106,000 for a family of four,” the Washington Post reported.

bucksfloating-300x167Who wouldn’t want $352 billion in health care savings in 2021?

Insurers — and more importantly employers — could see that hypothetical big chunk of change staying in their pockets, if somehow they could persuade hospitals to forgo their sky-high and ever-increasing prices, tying those charges instead to rates established and paid in the federal Medicare program that covers millions of the nation’s seniors, a new study reported.

The independent Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF) concedes it is unlikely that hospitals, insurers, and businesses would adopt the nonprofit organization’s newly published research any time soon.

brooks-lasure-150x150With millions of Americans now eligible to seek affordable health insurance on Obamacare exchanges newly re-opened to them, even more consumers will want to see if Congress’ impending action on the $1.9 trillion coronavirus pandemic response plan pushed by President Biden further expands coverage options.

The Democrats in Congress have made clear that they hope to get Biden’s financial package passed and in place by mid-March, when earlier approved pandemic plans, notably for unemployment insurance and other economic aid, are set to expire.

Their vote margin is so narrow, however, that they may need to rely on so-called budget reconciliation paths to pass the “American Rescue Plan,” a measure that includes an array of Democratic initiatives, notably those involving their plans to improve the access and affordability of health care, especially with greater coverage of the aged, poor, children, as well as the chronically physically and mentally ill.

gofundme-300x130Modern medicine may be providing patients with significant improvements in key treatment areas, but the cost of care has become so crushing that online campaigns for charitable medical aid have become heartbreakingly common in the United States.

A team of researchers from institutions across the country reported that the well-known GoFundMe website, between May 2010 and December 2018, had provided a platform for more than 1 million aid appeals — with 281,881 of these (26.7%) created to cover individuals’ health care–related costs.

Most of the fund-raising sought to assist cancer patients, with individuals suffering trauma and injuries, or neurological disorders trailing in number of campaigns. As the authors observed in their published study of these pitches:

debtcomsurvey-300x254Americans have made health care a central concern of the upcoming elections with excellent reasons. Their nightmares about this issue are getting worse, not better:

ssalogo-150x150Health care persists as one of the top concerns for voters as they consider candidates this fall — not just for the presidency but up and down the ballot.

A lot got said at the political conventions in the last two weeks on the topic, and, to their credit, media organizations have engaged medicaidnu-300x151in fact-checking and myth-busting  about health-related topics.

But beyond the crafted speeches over four nights for each party and looming past the repeated talking points of the candidates and their hand-picked supporters, voters will confront issues of huge gravity — some well known and others maybe less so.

Patrick Malone & Associates, P.C. listed in Best Lawyers Rated by Super Lawyers Patrick A. Malone
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