If you haven’t read the articles in the News & Observer and Charlotte Observer series on hospital profits and charity care you should check them out here. The reporters found some astounding stories.
I had several thoughts while reading these investigations. I’ll start by giving hospitals credit where credit is due. Hospitals, like all of us, are trapped in a terribly broken health care system. They have to deal with a huge number of moving parts including insurance company negotiations, quality reporting, changes in public programs, competition with other hospitals, etc. A hospital, for example, might feel forced to buy the latest and greatest equipment, even if it does not improve care, to attract the wealthiest and best insured patients. This can offset some of the free care given to uninsured patients.
Hospitals recognize that the system is senseless. That is why hospital associations both nationally and in the state endorsed health reform. I respect that. Many insurance companies claim that they want reform and then oppose any actual law that is drafted. Some even send post cards and make illegal robocalls to defeat health reform proposals.
Now on to the blame. No matter how desperate the situation for hospitals, it is appalling that a huge system like Carolinas HealthCare would sue thousands of patients. It is especially galling that they would pursue someone like Joyce Jones, a woman who paid property and sales taxes for years to support Carolinas. The hospital then billed her for $34,000, put a lien on her house, and refused to accept her offer of $10,000 and a payment plan.
This is a multi-billion dollar health system ruining a patient’s life over less than $20,000. They should be ashamed.
Hospitals do much good in our state. And, as the stories reveal, their billing practices are causing great pain. They should get credit for recognizing that we need change and endorsing the Affordable Care Act. But they should immediately stop suing poor people and impounding their homes.