Hospitals Suing Patients?

Here’s a cheerful article from Forbes, official journal of the cluelessly over-privileged — there’s been an upswing of hospitals suing patients who are unable to pay their bills.

According to the Charlotte Observer, over a five year period (2005 to 2010), North Carolina hospitals – most of which are tax-exempt non-profits – filed more than 40,000 lawsuits against patients with overdue bills. In at least one stunning example of patient-engagement, the article highlighted a bill collector who told an elderly woman “You have the right to remain silent.” Most of the lawsuits wind up against people that were uninsured – a category that typically pays the highest possible retail rate for healthcare services.

You’ll love this part:

In another example of aggressive collections – this time reported by the New York Times – debt collectors are starting to appear earlier in the healthcare process – including bedside in the ER. One organization, publicly traded Accretive Health is “embedding collectors as employees in emergency rooms and demanding that patients pay before receiving treatment.”

Whatever you do, don’t leave home without proof of insurance, if you have it. Consider having your policy information tattooed on your body somewhere, just in case. Otherwise, if you are unconscious, you could die before the hospital figures out who you are and whether you are insured.

But get this graph (click to enlarge):

Click to Enlarge

This is from the American Hospital Association, and it’s showing us the billions of dollars of unpaid bills hospitals are stuck with every year. And the thing I wish someone could get across to baggers and wingnuts and everyone else who doesn’t want to pay for “entitlements” is — we’re all paying those bills.

The average U.S. family and their employers paid an extra $1,017 in health care premiums last year to compensate for the uninsured, according to a study to be released Thursday by an advocacy group for health care consumers.

Families USA, which supports expanded health care coverage, found that about 37% of health care costs for people without insurance — or a total of $42.7 billion — went unpaid last year. That cost eventually was shifted to the insured through higher premiums, according to the group.

And of course this is a stupid, cost-inefficient way to pay for health care for the poor. A lot of those dollars represent uninsured people who didn’t seek medical help until some long-festering health problem was becoming critical, and also more expensive to treat. In theory, it ought to take less money out of our pockets to simply pay for health care for the poor with tax dollars, giving the poor better access to preventive and care for chronic illnesses.

But instead, too many of us scream stupidly about taxes and don’t notice that we’re already paying for this stuff, and we’re going to pay one way or another. Pretending that we aren’t paying for it is kind of stupid.

War on Youth

Paul Krugman makes the point that rising education costs are strangling the future —

Let’s start with some advice Mitt Romney gave to college students during an appearance last week. After denouncing President Obama’s “divisiveness,” the candidate told his audience, “Take a shot, go for it, take a risk, get the education, borrow money if you have to from your parents, start a business.”

Oh, sure. Go to college. Start a business. Mom and Dad will just lend you the money.

This reminds me of the English twits who withheld aid from Ireland during the Hunger, telling themselves that deprivation would teach the lazy good-for-nothing Irish to take some initiative and learn to work. Really, some of them said that. There’s a good article on British policies during the Irish Famine at the BBC that makes those twits sound just like today’s Republicans.

Krugman points out Mittens’s famous cluelesses, then goes on to point out that getting an education isn’t necessarily helping young people today —

There is, however, a larger issue: even if students do manage, somehow, to “get the education,” which they do all too often by incurring a lot of debt, they’ll be graduating into an economy that doesn’t seem to want them.

You’ve probably heard lots about how workers with college degrees are faring better in this slump than those with only a high school education, which is true. But the story is far less encouraging if you focus not on middle-aged Americans with degrees but on recent graduates. Unemployment among recent graduates has soared; so has part-time work, presumably reflecting the inability of graduates to find full-time jobs. Perhaps most telling, earnings have plunged even among those graduates working full time — a sign that many have been forced to take jobs that make no use of their education.

College graduates, then, are taking it on the chin thanks to the weak economy. And research tells us that the price isn’t temporary: students who graduate into a bad economy never recover the lost ground. Instead, their earnings are depressed for life.

Of course, as Krugman goes on to explain, conservatives are doing everything possible to make the situation worse instead of better. They keep voting to shrink the economy instead of grow it. Nothing I’ve seen recently says “We Are Idiots” more clearly than Club for Growth’s call to vote “no” on student loan subsidies. They should change the name to Club for Stunting.