Sunday, September 24, 2006

Hospitals as Debt Collectors

I live in the Raleigh-Durham-Chapel-Hill area of North Carolina and I was a little bothered by an article I came across in the Raleigh News and Observer. The title of the article was "UNC Hospitals relents on claim on patient's home".

Here's the gist of it. Jerry Ansley was bitten by a mosquito in september of 2004 and, as a result, he was infected with encephalitis. He was treated in the UNC Hospitals system and had health insurance, but the insurance didn't cover everything. Both Mr. Ansley and his wife had their retirement savings wiped out and currently he is disabled and relies on his wife to care for him. Obviously, this is a terrible story already, but to add insult to injury, the hospital system sued the Ansley's for the unpaid cost of treatment and went after their home---by suing the couple for the fair market value of their home.

The hospital system has since relinquised in this attempt, but this seems to be the result of negative attention being focused on the hospital (press attention).

You know, there are plenty of idiots out there who seem to look down on those with unpaid hospital bills and many of those same idiots thought it was good for congress to pull back on bankruptcy protection for individual citizens...but many people like the Ansley's have health insurance and still wind up with massive bills. And, historically, most personal bankruptcies have been the result of crushing medical debt.

So, what this say about our current leadership? It says a lot, and not a lot of it is good. Unfortunately, it also points to an extraordinary lack of empathy and support for middle America.

The chickens, however, will come home to roost and not too long from now. America is an aging country, health care costs are going up, health insurance carriers are getting more aggressive about claims (as in trying not to pay them), and health care providers are getting more mercenary about who they they will see (if you're no longer insured, your doctor of the last 15 years may drop you like a hot potato).

In short, this will become an untenable situation.

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