How Hospitals Are Gouging and Even Arresting the Uninsured
By The Staff of Democracy Now!
What do the Emir of Kuwait and the working poor of the United States have in common? Not much, except when it comes to paying for health care in the United States. They all pay the highest price: up to 500% more than the hospital receives from insured patients.
That’s because hospitals negotiate discounts with big institutions like insurance companies, HMOs or the government that require payment of only a fraction of the listed charges. Those institutions have substantial bargaining power and can guarantee hospitals a certain number of patients. Uninsured people, on the other hand, have no bargaining power and are left to fend for themselves once they get their bills.
Jennifer Kankiewicz was rushed to New York’s Beth Israel Hospital in July 2002 for an emergency appendectomy and was hospitalized for two days. “I waited through a day’s worth of not being able to get out of bed because I didn’t have health insurance,” recalls Kankiewicz. “The next day, a friend drove me to the hospital in an emergency and we went to the closest hospital we knew of.”
Kankiewicz had an emergency appendectomy. “They provided great service,” she says. The hospital “reassured me that I could apply for Medicaid assistance. So I thought, maybe Medicaid would help me with the $24,000 that it cost me.”
Though Kankiewicz is poor, she was not poor enough. She was denied Medicaid assistance because she makes $19,000 a year. In order to qualify for Medicaid, Kankiewicz either needed to be pregnant, disabled or earn less than $350 a month. Though she was able to convince her surgeon to slightly reduce the charges, she still faces over $19,000 in hospital bills, more than her annual salary. She says she is being billed by six separate billing groups and, unlike the big insurance companies; Kankiewicz has no negotiating power with the hospital or its collection agencies.
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