Better Solutions for Healthcare

NYT: How Rich Hospitals Profit From Patients in Car Crashes

By Sarah Kliff and Jessica Silver-Greenberg

February 1, 2021

When Monica Smith was badly hurt in a car accident, she assumed Medicaid would cover the medical bills. Ms. Smith, 45, made sure to show her insurance card after an ambulance took her to Parkview Regional Medical Center in Fort Wayne, Ind. She spent three days in the hospital and weeks in a neck brace.

But the hospital never sent her bills to Medicaid, which would have paid for the care in full, and the hospital refused requests to do so. Instead, it pursued an amount five times higher from Ms. Smith directly by placing a lien on her accident settlement.

Parkview is among scores of wealthy hospitals that have quietly used century-old hospital lien laws to increase revenue, often at the expense of low-income people like Ms. Smith. By using liens — a claim on an asset, such as a home or a settlement payment, to make sure someone repays a debt — hospitals can collect on money that otherwise would have gone to the patient to compensate for pain and suffering.

They can also ignore the steep discounts they are contractually required to offer to health insurers, and instead pursue their full charges.

The difference between the two prices can be staggering. In Ms. Smith’s case, the bills that Medicaid would have paid, $2,500, ballooned to $12,856 when the hospital pursued a lien.
“It’s astounding to think Medicaid patients would be charged the full-billed price,” said Christopher Whaley, a health economist at the RAND Corporation who studies hospital pricing. “It’s absolutely unbelievable.”