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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, December 28, 2016

 
And now for something completely frightening

by digby












From Ryan Cooper at The Week:

Perhaps the most monstrous thing about the American medical system — and the bar for that title is high indeed — is predatory billing.

A great many medical providers adjust their prices based on how defenseless the patient is, and bleed the weakest ones for every last red cent, often with preposterously inflated charges for things like aspirin and bandages. A 2015 study looked at the worst price gougers in the country and found 50 hospitals that charged uninsured people roughly 10 times the actual cost of care.

Key to this practice is something called "balance billing," and it's why the American Medical Association is strongly supporting Donald Trump's pick of Rep. Tom Price (R-Ga.) to lead the Department of Health and Human Services, which oversees Medicare. Balance billing is forbidden for Medicare enrollees, but Price wants to allow it — thus allowing doctors and hospitals to devour the nest eggs of thousands of American seniors.

So what is balance billing? It's the practice of billing the patient for the difference between the sticker price and what insurance will pay. So if a hospital visit costs $1,000, but your insurance will only cover $300, some providers will "balance bill" you for $700.

For unscrupulous providers, the method of exploitation is obvious: When doing any sort of expensive procedure, take a rough estimate of the absolute maximum the patient can pay, and jack up the price so the balance hits it. Or if you're short on time, just bill them into the stratosphere, and you'll get whatever the patient has during the bankruptcy proceeding.

Balance billing is basically illegal for Medicare patients, and heavily restricted for Medicaid patients. It was restricted under the Affordable Care Act as well, but only partially. Out-of-network care — increasingly common as insurance networks get narrower and narrower — can still be balance billed even if it is for an emergency, both for ACA plans and employer-provided ones, and doesn't have to be counted toward out-of-pocket limits. People being blindsided by immense out-of-network bills — going to an in-network hospital that employs an out-of-network surgeon they conveniently failed to tell you about, for example — is an increasingly common experience. That is why ObamaCare failed to stop people being bankrupted by medical debt (though it did slow medical bankruptcies substantially).

Permanently obliterating the financial security of helpless families with no or bad insurance as a loved one dies slowly and painfully of a chronic illness is a nice little profit center for providers. But it pales in comparison to the gravy train they might get if they can bring balance billing to Medicare. Seniors use far more care than the younger exchange population, and there are a lot more of them — 55.5 million, versus 12.7 million people on the exchanges. Perhaps most importantly, they're quite a bit richer on average. Many seniors have been scrimping their whole lives to save for retirement, in keeping with decades of agitprop from conservatives and Wall Street, and the more sociopathic among the health-care population are licking their chops at the prospect of being able to devour those nest eggs.

That brings me back to Tom Price and the AMA. In 2011, Price (an orthopedic surgeon himself) introduced a Medicare "reform" bill in Congress that, among other things, would have brought balance billing to the program. This would greatly increase provider and physician revenues, and the AMA eagerly lined up behind it. Physician salaries are of course already none too shabby: An average salary for a primary care doctor in 2015 was $195,000; for specialists it was $284,000. Hey, a few thousand grandparents might lose their retirement, but that fourth BMW isn't going to buy itself.

But balance billing would also go no small distance toward abolishing Medicare as an actual program of insurance. Because really, how can you be said to be insured if any provider can swipe your entire net worth simply by fiddling with the prices?

There's more if you can bear it.

I'm sure that there will be a huge pushback from various quarters, including the Democrats. But with polarization I can easily see elderly Republicans getting on board with this even though it will destroy them personally.

And, by the way, it won't just destroy the old people. It's going to wipe out entire families. If you haven't dealt with an elderly person lately you simply cannot imagine how much health care they need and how insanely expensive it is. The idea that we can be "wise consumers" when we're 85 is simply ridiculous. Unless, of course, they plan to implement those death panels after all. They're going to need them.

In any case, if this is actually proposed, we're going to find out if our politics are now simply a team sport in which people don't care at all about the details or if a direct assault on a prime GOP constituency will finally sober them up. I'm skeptical that anything will but you have to have some hope.

Oy. The hits just keep on coming.


Happy Hollandaise everyone.  :/