Uninsured are charged four times what Medicare pays for ER visit

A nationwide analysis of medical bills shows that hospitals typically charge uninsured emergency room patients four times what they’re willing to accept from Medicare for the same service, U.S. researchers say.

That’s more than double what those same hospitals charge for services performed in other parts of the hospital, the authors report in JAMA Internal Medicine.

The new study found, for example, that for a $100 treatment in the emergency room, some hospitals were charging patients up to $1,260.

“It points to the practice of price gouging by hospitals because patients often can’t pick their doctors in the emergency department,” lead author Dr. Tim Xu told Reuters Health in a telephone interview. “It’s a system that needs help.”

The extra cost is borne by people who don’t have health insurance and by insured patients who inadvertently – or out of necessity – get their treatment from doctors and hospitals that are not in an insurance company’s network of providers.

Even when a person is covered and insurance pays part of the bill, the patient may be responsible for paying the amount the insurance company considers unreasonable, a practice known as balance billing.

A few states, such as New York, ban the practice of issuing these “surprise medical bills.” They all should, said Xu, who did the study at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland.

“Unfortunately, only a handful of states have that kind of law. So patients really get struck in the crossfire and get these enormous bills that they really don’t expect,” he said.

Medical bills are the leading cause of bankruptcy in the U.S.

The study examined charges by 12,337 emergency medicine physicians and 57,607 internal medicine physicians based in the same 3,669 hospitals…

Read full story at Reuters

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