Friday, May 11, 2007

Why Are Hospitals Charging the Uninsured More than the Insured for the Same Treatments?

More than 40 million Americans do not have health insurance. They simply can’t afford it. So, it makes no sense that, when uninsured individuals receive hospital care, they are charged more than those who do have insurance.

Why are the uninsured being overcharged? Insurance companies negotiate rates for their customers; if you don’t have insurance, you lose out on that benefit. This is just another example of how big business squeezes the most vulnerable among us. And it’s yet another sign that points to the growing need for universal healthcare in this country.

A recently released study shows that, in many cases, the uninsured are charged more than 2.5 times the rates that insured patients are charged at hospitals. There has always been a gap between what the insured and uninsured are charged, but that gap has widened considerably in the last 10 years.

Why do hospitals charge people with exactly the same injury different amounts, based on whether or not they have insurance? If the injury is the same, if the treatment received is the same, shouldn’t the cost be the same? Hospitals overcharge the uninsured to compensate for the millions of dollars they lose each year in unpaid medical bills. As a result, a person who is on shaky financial ground may receive a bill that is nearly three times higher than someone who is insured. To make matters worse, this individual could probably be subject to aggressive debt collectors; hospitals have stepped up their collections process in recent years.

Hospitals and lawmakers have been heavily criticized for this practice, and rightly so. Despite the scrutiny, no plan has been developed to level medical costs for the uninsured.

Allowing hospitals to squeeze the uninsured with marked-up rates is wrong, plain and simple. This practice must end immediately. A universal healthcare program could solve this problem for all of those involved. Universal healthcare will ensure that those in need of medical care can receive it, without having to worry about how they’ll pay the bill. It will also guarantee that healthcare providers will be paid for their services.

The current healthcare system does not work for every American. It must be fixed. Lawmakers must turn their attention to universal healthcare and explore how they can make this a reality and not just a campaign concept. Perhaps this new Democratic Congress can move this issue forward. Or maybe the crop of presidential hopefuls will breathe new life into this ongoing discussion.
Judge Greg Mathis is national vice president of Rainbow PUSH and a national board member of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference.

By: Judge Greg Mathis, Special to

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