Sep 4, 2019

Hospital lawsuits unearth "cracks in our system"

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Data: Peterson-Kaiser Health System Tracker; Chart: Axios Visuals

Low-income patients often face steeper out-of-pocket health care costs — and that means they're also more likely to be sued by hospitals when they can't pay their bills.

Driving the news: The New York Times yesterday reported on Carlsbad Medical Center's prolific use of lawsuits to collect its patients' medical debts, which often leads to wage garnishment or property liens.

  • The hospital is the only one in town and has filed nearly 3,000 lawsuits against patients since 2015, NYT found.
  • Its practices were first profiled in an upcoming book by Marty Makary, a doctor at Johns Hopkins, titled "The Price We Pay."
  • "The health insurance deductibles so often discussed in our health policy circles may seem inconsequential to wealthy people and to decision makers in the policy world, but they are crushing many Americans," Makary writes.

Not only are patients facing more out-of-pocket spending than ever before, but hospitals — including Carlsbad Medical Center — often greatly inflate their prices compared to Medicare rates.

  • Some of the hospitals suing patients — like Memphis' Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare — are nonprofits.
  • "Hospitals want to get all the perks of their nonprofit status…but really rake patients through the coals with their billing practices," Yale's Zack Cooper told me.

The bottom line: "There's a space for folks who are vulnerable to get caught in the cracks of our system ... [such as] higher cost sharing and out-of-pocket costs, skimpier health insurance plans, and more aggressive collection practices by hospitals and providers," Cooper said.

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  1. Global: Total confirmed cases as of 2 p.m. ET: 5,453,784 — Total deaths: 345,886 — Total recoveries — 2,191,310Map.
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  3. World: Top Boris Johnson aide defends himself after allegations he broke U.K. lockdown — WHO suspends trial of hydroxychloroquine over safety concerns.
  4. 2020: Trump threatens to move Republican convention from North Carolina — Joe Biden makes first public appearance in two months.
  5. Public health: Officials are urging Americans to wear masks over Memorial Day.
  6. Economy: White House economic adviser Kevin Hassett says it's possible the unemployment rate could still be in double digits by November's election — Charities refocus their efforts to fill gaps left by government.
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Joe Biden makes first public appearance in over two months

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Former Vice President Joe Biden made his first in-person appearance in over two months on Monday to honor Memorial Day by laying a wreath at a Delaware veterans park, AP reports.

Why it matters: Biden, the Democratic Party's presumptive nominee, has taken the unprecedented step of campaigning from his home during the coronavirus pandemic, ever since canceling a rally in Cleveland on March 10.

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The World Health Organization is temporarily pausing tests of the anti-malarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a coronavirus treatment in order to review safety concerns, the agency's director-general Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesu said Monday.

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