Which Patients Can Afford To Pay Medical Bills?

Armen Hareyan's picture

Medical Bills

For-profit hospitals are having an increasingly difficult timedetermining which patients are able to pay their medical bills asprivate health insurers shift more costs to members, experts say, Reuters reports. A 2006 Kaiser Family Foundation/Health Research and Educational Trust surveyfound that workers' average contribution for monthly health carepremiums was $248 for family coverage, up from $178 in 2002. Accordingto hospital officials and health care experts, insured patients accountfor a rising share of hospitals' uncollected debt. Most hospitalchains' bad debt -- "a key gauge of uncollected medical bills" -- hasreached 10% of quarterly revenue, Reuters reports.


Maribeth Shannon, director of market and policy at the California HealthCare Foundation,said, "The increase in patients' responsibility is putting hospitals inthis unusual position of having to negotiate with patients who haveinsurance." Debra Draper, associate director of the Center for Studying Health System Change,said, "I think a lot of providers have been caught off guard by this,"adding, "There is an increasing burden on them to have effective(collection) systems in place."

The American Hospital Associationrecommends that families of four with incomes at 100% of the federalpoverty level receive charity care, but this guideline is voluntary,and experts say hospitals "are all over the map on policies, especiallyin the grayer area of incomes above poverty," according to Reuters.

Someanalysts believe hospitals should try to collect a portion of theunpaid bills before writing off care for some patients who have incomesgreater than the poverty level. Stanford Financialanalyst Gary Lieberman said, "If you book it as revenue and put itthrough a process, you may only get 10 cents on the dollar, but that isbetter than nothing." However, other analysts say medical costs are sohigh that it is possible people with incomes several times the povertylevel would not be able to afford their medical bills (Dixon, Reuters, 8/6).

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