Hospitals and doctors have begun to explore new ways of obtaining payment for their billed services. However, oftentimes these hospitals and doctors are only looking out for their best interests, not their patients’.
Health care providers have teamed up with credit card companies to create a ‘medical credit card’, which is essentially a credit card that can only be used on medical purchases. You can fill out an application in your doctor’s office and get approved while sitting in the waiting room. From a doctor’s perspective this is ideal because they receive instant payment for their services. But oftentimes the patient is the one who loses.
Patients are lured in with low interest rates and the ease of applying, but are not told that if they miss one payment the interest rates skyrocket. Also, some patients have reported that they didn’t even know they were applying for a credit card- they thought they were signing a financial payment agreement with their doctor. Not to mention that when these credit cards are offered to patients they are often in need of care, so their focus is more on their treatment and not their finances.
Another way hospitals have started to solve the problem of unpaid medical bills is to obtain a patient’s credit report. Hospitals attest that they only use these reports to determine whether they should offer charity care or if they should pursue them through bill collectors, but some worry that there is an ulterior motive. Hospitals are only required by law to treat patients with an emergency problem, or who constitute a medical necessity. So what’s to stop them from turning you away if they find out you have bad credit?
Some hospitals only obtain these credit reports after obtaining the patient’s permission and only after care has been rendered. Yet other hospitals assert that they qualify as a creditor as soon as the patient walks in the door and can therefore obtain the reports without the patient’s consent.
Consumer advocates are concerned that not only will hospitals turn patients away based on their credit reports, but will use that information in another way. If a credit report shows another line of credit available to pay a bill they might pressure the patient to use that to pay off medical expenses. For example, if you have a credit card that is not maxed out then you could be encouraged to charge your medical bills on that card. But if you don’t have the money to pay your hospital bill then you don’t have the money to pay your credit card. Except now you are accruing high interest on the medical charges on your credit card.
Hospitals and health care providers shouldn’t take advantage of patients who are in a vulnerable position. Whether or not they have the means to pay doesn’t change their need for treatment.
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