An expose by the Times of the truly awful business that some lawyers are engaged in.
Over the last number of years, a variety of people have petitioned JHC to look into their practices of charity care along with their collections policies that have resulted in people being sent to court and into bankruptcy over relatively small amounts (some have been larger amounts, to be sure).
Members of the Local 2020 group, Citizens Healthcare Access (CHA) went so far as to go to court to obtain records of collections as the hospital was unwilling to share them with the public (shocking coming from a public hospital).
With citizens groups and some Hospital Commissioners agitating for transparency and better charity care clarity, the hospital finally convened a Patient Financial Experience Task Force, which worked for months in secrecy over their goals. Steve Workman, a citizen activist who often attends the CHA meetings, along with now Hospital Commissioner Bruce McComas were members of the task force.
The new sliding scale has allowed greater flexibility and transparency to low income and no income households. While some online critics are criticizing the program as “too generous” this is being implemented for people who, at these levels, simply do not have a way to pay for services without bankrupting their families. It still allows for the hospital to setup payment schedules for those that may have savings or other financial resources. If they did not have these options, the only other options for these people are simply to not seek care for themselves and their children, leaving them to suffer rather than receive care. (I have talked to single moms working two or three jobs who had to make the choice of putting food on the table or seeking healthcare for their sick children.)
The sliding scale is not new at JHC. But they have expanded and clarified it. The next issue to address is the lack of transparency on pricing. While it’s good to be able to know that even if you can’t afford care you can be worked into the system, the ability to know what you are going to be charged before seeking care is also pretty fundamental to a free and open market. Utimately, the best option is universal healthcare, or some kind of single payers system. We built our interstate systems across the country on the taxes that *all* taxpayers paid. There is a deep and proven set of systems in industrialized countries like ours that do single payer, in fact we are the only ones that don’t. The results do not prove that we are better, our stats prove we are much worse than other countries in the standards of care and longevity. Most people in the US have never even experienced single payer (I have). It’s shocking to see what we have setup and how badly it compares to others, even Canada.
Jefferson Healthcare hospital has implemented a new sliding fee scale for charity care that is helping more families pay for their health care.
“This is currently one of the most generous plans in the state,” said Amy Yaley, spokeswoman for Jefferson Healthcare. “For the people that we are providing health care for, we are definitely making an impact on their financial burden.”
Since starting this blog, I’ve been brought up to date on a number of medical issues here in our town (and on the wider Peninsula). One of the issues is the hospital’s use of collection agencies to go after slow pay patients. It represents a shift from the old notion of ‘charity care’. But who are these people who are being affected by this new approach by the hospital?
This is an story from a real young person struggling to get healthy and get out from under her medical bills. It’s quite illustrative about issues that people here on the Olympic Peninsula are also going through, from what I have heard over the last two months. It raises the issue of whether anything other than a single payer solution can be effective in protecting citizens from medical bankruptcy. I ask that question not because I think I know the answer, but because, given all that is happening in medicine in this country, it should be debated. I would like to reach out and find others, like her, that are here in Jefferson and Clallam county and begin the process of documenting their stories as well. If you would like, we can keep your name anonymous. You can contact me here at the blog.
The debt I accrued from saving my own life means that I can’t go back to college, I can’t own a home, I can’t even get a loan to consolidate my debt.
Abby Norman is a writer. Her work has been featured in The Rumpus, The Establishment, Cosmopolitan, Seventeen Magazine, The Independent, Quartz, Bustle and others.
If you find the article interesting, I recommend you take her hint and send her a paypal for $5 to help pay for a coffee. You would have bought her one if you had gone and heard her story locally at any coffee shop in town.