Bil Browning

You Can Die Trying To Pay That Hospital Bill

Filed By Bil Browning | September 14, 2006 3:41 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
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Warning: If you are uninsured, plan ahead before you are hospitalized or you could find a lifetime of work undone - not by your health but by your hospital bills.

The Indianapolis Star recently ran a story about how hospitals charge uninsured patients significantly more money for services than they charge for the same services to patients whose bills are being paid by insurance companies. Funny, it seems to me that the person without insurance would need the discounted price every bit as much as the insurance company.

Case in point is what a friend of mine encountered with St. Vincent's Hospital. She is self-employed. At the beginning of this year, she was hospitalized with pneumonia for three days, accruing charges at St. Vincent's Hospital for just over $8,000.00 (this excluded the doctor's bills, outside laboratories, etc.). The original bill from St. Vincent's was for the full amount. When St. Vincent's realized payment would not be immediately forthcoming, the price was reduced by 20%.

By the time I stepped into the picture, it was nine months later. I called both the hospital and debt collection agency to which it had been assigned and was told by four different people that St. Vincent's would not negotiate anything below a 20% discount. Period. End of discussion. Thus if you are middle class, the hospital started by the Daughters of Charity leaves you with three choices: 1) pay your bill and forego such nonessentials as food, car payment and house payment; 2) pay your bill in monthly installments, making it even tougher or impossible to make your health insurance payments; or 3) file bankruptcy.

My friend has been self-employed most of her life. She is beyond the age of 50 and it's a lot easier to say she should get a job with benefits then it is actually finding such a job. People should not have to choose between health care and bankruptcy after working a lifetime. I mean, really, this is not like deciding to unwisely spend money you don't have on a luxury item. For God's sake, we're talking bills for medical care, not a Birkin bag!

My suggestion to anyone without health insurance but needing hospitalization, is to refuse to allow them to remove you from the ambulance gurney until you have negotiated the cost of your care, down to the last kleenex. And as a last ditch negotiation step, instruct the ambulance attendants to just put you down on the sidewalk while reminding the hospital that the cost of scooping-up your cold, dead body and the bad press from news reporters covering your last days, holding your sign that says, "They would not agree to charge me the same amount they charge the insurance companies," will cost them a whole lot more in missed business from those insured patients who cannot bear the thought of stepping over you to get in the hospital door. Maybe then the Daughters of Charity might consider that charity begins in the homes of the middle class and not just the poor.


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Well put Karen!! Working in the health care industry myself, I know that our establishment follows these guidelines: If you are...for example...paying a $5000 bill for services rendered and you are not insured, you will receive a 20% discount only IF you are paying the bill in FULL at that time...because you know we all have $4000 just lying around!! Most of the time people make just a little above to much money to qualify for any "financial aid"...of course.

Health-care delivery in this country is shameful--plenty of fault to go around.

An opinion piece published in the Star this week, written by a doctor in the thick of it all, gives a firsthand opinion/account of some of those flaws and advocates a doable solution: http://www.indystar.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20060910/OPINION01/609100372&SearchID=73256867206531