HOSPITALS GIVE UNTIL IT HURTS

This article, Hospitals Give Until It Hurts, first appeared in California Healthcare News on April 10, 2018.

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“The formula ‘two and two make five’ is not without its attractions.” — Fyodor Dostoevsky

A 2005 report surveyed 1,771 personal bankruptcy filings, half of which cited medical expense as the cause.  For those suffering from an illness that preceded bankruptcy, individual out-of-pocket medical expenses averaged close to $12,000, and those qualifying as “medical debtors” were 42% more likely to experience lapses in health insurance coverage. This serves as the backdrop to what is commonly known in health care as “charity care” or “hospital fair pricing policies.”  Consumer advocates blamed hospitals as the cause of this financial epidemic, fueled by the absence of any law or regulation regarding the prices that uninsured and underinsured consumers/patients paid for health care, not to mention the collection practices employed by those entities insisting upon payment for services rendered.

Health Care By Robin Hood

Fundamentally there should be nothing wrong with accepting from those patients without financial means less money than wealthier patients for similar services. Certain laws are inconsistent with this medical benevolence, such as one federal statute that prohibits health care providers from submitting a bill for payment substantially in excess of that entity’s usual charges for these items or services.  The penalty for violating this law, 42 U.S.C. § 1320a-7(b)(6), is possible exclusion from Federal health care programs such as Medicare and Medicaid. The California Court of Appeal, Fifth District, offered another reason why hospitals should refrain from such generosity, specifically after the seminal 2014 decision in Children’s Hospital of Central California v. Blue Cross of California (226 Cal. App. 4th 1260). After decades of fighting between non-contracting providers and insurance companies, the best advice the judicial system had to offer in defining “reasonable value” was past agreements to pay and accept a particular price.

Nevertheless, legislators believed the ways in which hospitals should bill the uninsured could not be left to chance, and in 2005 California passed Assembly Bill 774 which required hospitals to develop a policy specifying how it will determine financial liability for services rendered to financially qualified patients and those patients without any insurance.  In part, AB 774 (1) placed limitations on billing and collection practices for hospitals as well as their billing agents, (2) required hospitals to submit to the Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development (OSHPD) their plan to comply with the new obligations, and (3) charged the Office of the Attorney General with enforcing transgressions. … Read more →

A Brave New Medicare0

This article, A Brave New Medicare, was first published in California Healthcare News on February 4, 2015. 

Caduceus background“Consistency is contrary to nature, contrary to life. The only completely consistent people are dead.” —Aldous Huxley

Next month the Affordable Care Act turns five, and by all accounts the influence of this historic legislation will forever change the landscape of health care in the United States, regardless of its ultimate fate. As each passing year introduces thousands of new regulatory pages to an already expansive body of federal and state law, praise for what has come to be known as health care reform is only rivaled by the relentless partisan calls for its repeal.

Recognition of the Affordable Care Act’s more laudable accomplishments should not be overlooked, especially the elimination of preexisting conditions, an overall reduction in the number of uninsured, and, according to some experts, findings that point to an actual slowing in health care spending at a national level. On the other hand, we as a nation must also be mindful of any collateral damage caused by reform, especially when considering that the immediate statistical data used to document the success of reform tends to present itself easily, while the longer-term, potentially less favorable information upon which the Affordable Care Act can also be judged may take decades to unfold.Read more →

Lessons Learned from Dial-Up0

This article was first published in the Daily Journal on May 15, 2014.

iStock_000013044243MediumIn the largest cities across the U.S., locating an Internet connection has become as easy as finding a cup of coffee. In modern times, however, the ability to effectively communicate in business is inextricably connected to the rate by which one is able to transfer data. Like a bad cup of coffee, we may tolerate a slow connection when options are limited, but no one really enjoys it. Lessons from both support the notion that we not only prefer quality speed, but it also improves our performance at work.

If bit rates are the standard measurement for telecommunications, hospital beds present the equivalent in health care. … Read more →

What Are We Fighting to Reform?0

This article was first published in California Healthcare News on May 6, 2014.

IMG_2220“Revelation can be more perilous than Revolution.”  — Vladimir Nabokov

As in baseball, the history of war favors the home team, especially when the home team prevails.  Not surprisingly, those who come in second place on the battlefield have little say in the telling of the tale. What became of the Ottoman and Austria-Hungarian Empires receives anecdotal attention, though those who live in Istanbul, Vienna and Budapest remember the Great War much like the City of Buffalo remembers Scott Norwood. So, too, will the success or failure of America’s struggle to provide universal health care be decided in the grand scheme, with little thought given to the smaller scale of unfortunate losses incurred upon the way. … Read more →

Another Healthcare Crisis: Closing Hospitals0

This Op-ed appeared in the Los Angeles Times on February 26, 2014.

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Lower Oconee Community Hospital in southern Georgia closed its doors this month, eliminating 25 hospital beds and up to 100 hospital jobs. This was the fourth Georgia hospital to fold in two years and the eighth rural hospital in the state to close since 2000. Although Lower Oconee’s shutdown may not have registered much media coverage, those in search of medical attention in Glenwood, Ga., should be mindful that the closest hospital is now 30 miles away. As reference, Santa Ana  is 30 miles from Los Angeles. When faced with a medical emergency, no one fancies a long road trip. … Read more →