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Medical debt out of control? It may not be your fault

Even with health insurance, for many people, getting sick means plunging into a serious amount of debt. The required publication of health care and procedure costs that was implemented with the new health care law has shed light on one of the possible reasons why medical debt is continuing to skyrocket for patients in Washington and across the United States. Many for-profit hospitals charge patients much more than the standard Medicare reimbursement rate, placing an unnecessary burden on already at-risk patients.

A survey of costs resulted in a ranking of the top 50 hospitals that hand out the steepest medical bills. Of those, Community Health System owns 20 on the list. It posted a recent quarterly profit of $4.91 billion, but the company still objected to the way in which researchers created the list. According to Community Health System, the rates that they charge are typically not what they are ultimately paid back.

The individuals who spearheaded the study and created the list still believe that the initially large bills that many patients receive have a negative impact on more than just a patient's financial situation. Some patients choose to avoid seeking medical care altogether rather than take on the burden of a medical bill that might be as much as 10 times what Medicare allows for during reimbursement. The researchers also noted that the high costs at many for-profit hospitals push many already vulnerable patients toward the need to file for bankruptcy.

For most people in Washington, there may be little doubt that health care costs have spun out of control. Even with insurance, surprise medical bills or hidden costs continue to force already sick patients to choose between meeting daily necessities or paying off the interest of an insurmountable mountain of bills. Medical debt is a strikingly common factor that comes into play when an individual decides that it is time to file for bankruptcy protection, but this is perhaps because it is an exceptionally effective tool for handling debt that has spiraled out of control.

Source: startribune.com, "Study: Most hospitals charging highest rates are for-profits, 20 located in Florida", Kelli Kennedy, June 8, 2015

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