NPR part three::: I avoid at all costs going to a hospital,,

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In fact, the hospital brings in so much money that all of this wage garnishment turns out to be a minor item on its balance sheet. Totaling up all the money the hospital seized from patients’ wages last year, according to court records, shows that wage garnishment brought in just half of 1 percent of its revenues.

Other hospitals in Missouri have found ways to avoid suing low-income patients. BJC Healthcare, a nonprofit, operates a chain of 12 hospitals, including Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, the largest in the state. In 2013, the BJC hospital chain filed just 26 lawsuits. Unlike Heartland, BJC automatically slices 25 percent off its standard rates for uninsured patients and never includes interest on payment plans, said June Fowler, BJC’s spokeswoman.

By comparison, Heartland hospital’s debt collection arm filed over 2,200 lawsuits in Missouri courts in 2013. “It’s not fair to those who are paying to not be aggressive with those who have the ability and aren’t paying,” Wagner says.

She says the hospital does everything it can to fulfill its mission as a nonprofit, charitable institution. Patients are offered multiple opportunities to qualify for financial assistance and avoid the possibility of legal action, she says. It would be better for everyone, Wagner says, “if we attempt to work on things before it gets to this level.”

In recent years, the hospital has made its charity care policy more generous. Heartland’s policies state that anyone making less than three times the poverty line can qualify to be billed at a reduced rate, similar to what an insurance company pays, and then get that amount cut in half. If they make less than twice the poverty line, the entire bill is forgiven.

The hospital makes every effort to let patients know that they may qualify for help, Wagner says. “Financial counselors are available if a patient asks for that.” But if patients don’t utilize those resources, she says, the hospital must take action.

“No one goes into this with the goal or the desire to ruin someone’s life,” Wagner says. “But at the same time, the services were rendered, and we have to figure out how to get them paid for.”

Asked why the hospital sues more patients than any other in the state, Wagner said, “I don’t know.”

Last year, about 8,700 Heartland patients had their bills cut or zeroed out, according to data provided by Heartland. About half of those were uninsured, while the rest were spared full payment of deductibles or other obligations not covered by their insurance.

But uninsured patients like the Heries who don’t receive charity care — either because they were turned down or never applied — are billed at Heartland’s standard rates, the sticker price that insurers never pay. In 2013, more than two-thirds of the accounts the hospital’s debt collection division handled involved uninsured patients, according to data provided by Heartland.
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6 responses to this post.

  1. Posted by renofailure on January 23, 2015 at 4:23 pm

    Healthcare in this country is pathetic. All the middlemen to take the money. I have no problems with doctors and nurses making a good living for what they do, but if insurance companies can pay a reduced rate, that should be the rate for all.

  2. I have no problem with doctors making a good living either.

    I have an issue when emrgency room doctors threatened me because Cigna was not paying them quick enough.

    They told me they did not care if they ruined my credit.

    These little branches, radiology, emrgency room doctors, labs are separate from our policies.

    It is another way of increasing a supposed $2500 deductible into $5,000 plus

    It is game. They hold all the cards

  3. Posted by jennifertemp on January 23, 2015 at 4:46 pm

    Ah… there’s the rub- “standard rate”. Kills you. My niece lives in a very old mobile home park in Eugene. 5 people in a 800 sq ft mobile. Her husband makes a modest living. Bikes to work. Their insurance totally changed this January – Phase 2 – Affordable Care Act. Now the parents have a 5,000 deductible. Now neither will go to the doctor when they need to because of out of pocket expenses, over $100.00 per visit I desperate, they would probably go to the ER.

    Shameful.

  4. The statistics bear this out.

    The middle class avoids going to get medical treatment because costs have skyrocketed.

    Deductibles have doubled, tripled, or quadrupled.

    The hospitals have record profits here and they are by far the biggest garnished of this town. Especially the poor, uninsured.

  5. You do not have to be low income.

    Affluent people who develop cancer can lose everything on their dying journey.

    Acquire a $15,000 bill and most families living pay check to pay check are devastated.

    Also that $15,000 is not contained in one payment or garnishment.

    Separate bills arrive or garnishments for radiology, emergency room doctor, labs and hospital.

    Even bankruptcy is no guarantee you will not be sick in a year and be right back where you were.

    You can stop charging things on a credit card, you can budget for many things,my our health is out of your control.

    Even insured, I am still paying for a hospital stay over two years ago.

  6. Posted by jennifertemp on January 23, 2015 at 6:40 pm

    It also is a fact that a large majority of people who file for personal bankruptcy HAVE medical insurance, and it is the medical debt that causes them to file.

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