Uninsured Patients Face Higher Hospital Bills, Study Finds
Uninsured patients owe hospitals 2.5 times more for medical services than people with private health insurance and three times more than Medicare beneficiaries, according to a study published on Tuesday in the journal Health Affairs, the Los Angeles Times reports (Yi, Los Angeles Times, 5/8).
For the study, Gerard Anderson, director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, examined hospital bills between 1984 and 2004 (Colliver, San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8).
The study found that the difference in the amount uninsured patients owe hospitals and the amount people with private health insurance and Medicare beneficiaries owe hospitals more than doubled between 1984 and 2004.
The largest differences in 2004 occurred at hospitals in California, New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and the smallest differences occurred at facilities in Idaho, Montana, Vermont and Wyoming, according to the study.
Hospitals on average receive only $39 of every $100 they bill uninsured patients, the study found (Armour, USA Today, 5/8).
Anderson said, "Hospitals shouldn't be charging three times" the amount they bill Medicare for medical services, "especially from poor people who are uninsured" (Los Angeles Times, 5/8). "The uninsured get trapped," Anderson said, adding, "It puts them into bankruptcy. This is really below the public's radar screen."
However, the American Hospital Association said that hospitals have reduced the amount they bill low-income, uninsured patients since 2004, when HHS released guidelines on appropriate discounts for such patients (USA Today, 5/8).
Before the release of the guidelines, hospital officials had concerns that discounts for low-income, uninsured patients could violate Medicare rules, AHA Vice President of Policy Carmela Coyle said.
California Hospital Association spokesperson Jan Emerson said, "This study is three years old, woefully out of date and does not reflect any current realities in California" (San Francisco Chronicle, 5/8).
According to Anderson, the study did not determine whether hospitals have reduced the amount they bill uninsured patients since 2004. He said, "I don't know if hospitals have paid attention" to the guidelines (USA Today, 5/8).
Health Access California Executive Director Anthony Wright said, "The solution is for people to be covered under health insurance," adding, "At the end of the day, if you can't afford insurance, you can't afford the discounted rates either" (Los Angeles Times, 5/8).