Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Vultures in the Emergency Room

Once again insurance companies tighten access to healthcare . Now it is in emergency room where debt collectors disguised as nurses or doctors or other hospital employees, intrude on patients asking for payment before getting care.  Sometimes one may be encosted on route from parking lot to the emergency room.

These new 'providers' are not actually employed by the insurance companies, but they are proxies for the insurers. According to the front page of today's NYT, some hospitals contract with debt collector agencies to request payment upfront for emergency services. If you have an outstanding bill, payment may be required before receiving emergency services. Somehow your medical bills are abled to be accessed by the collectors.

Although the debt collectors are not employees of the insurance companies, they are the root cause.  Many working Americans cannot afford to purchase health insurance. Some are self employed and cannot afford the enormous premiums for an individual or family policy. For some, their employer does not provide health benefits or does not give the person sufficient hours to qualify for health benefits. Since the hospitals are obligated to provide care for all people who arrive at the door and some cannot pay for care or have no or poor insurance coverage, they are caught in the middle. The hospitals are tight for money so they hire debt collectors, disguise them in doctor or nurse attire and set them off to prey on those who least can afford to pay. The thought of being 'asked' for payment when seeking emergency care is enough to intimidate patients are intimidated who then may avoid seeking care until their illness has progressed to point that it cannot be ignored. At that point, care is many times more expensive and much less effective.

What has our method of healthcare come to? Are we so small minded to allow such practices to add insult to injury of our most vulnerable fellow citizens?

The free market has had many decades to resolve this inequality. It has not done it. Therefore, it is unlike that they will do it any time soon. Do we really want to see ourselves as so unconcerned about our neighbors?

If we are honest with ourselves, we know this is unlikely to get better without getting the 'forces of the market place' out of the emergency room and the physicians' offices.


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