Liz Kowalczyk of The Boston Globe is adding more tinder to the price transparency fire. Her recent article follows patients who are angered by surprise surcharges tacked on to their hospital bills for doctor visits and who are starting to challenging these fees — at times refusing to pay outright!
So what are the hospitals saying? Well, they’re back-pedaling as we’d expect them to, saying, “the charges cover their overhead, but the fees are sometimes added to the bill even when patients are treated in offices miles away from the medical centers.” According to The Boston Globe these fees can creep into the hundreds of dollars, with patients getting hassled and chased by collection agencies.
Wendy Frosh was charged $500 by Tufts Medical Center for a “facility fee’’ after a 20-minute exam in literally an adjacent office building. Oh, and she got charged roughly $250 extra for a surgeon’s services. Frosh wound up switching to a new doctor after this rigmarole.
According to the article, “Hospitals have charged overhead fees for more than a decade, arguing that they help pay for crucial services such as 24-hour emergency rooms and trauma units. A Tufts spokeswoman said facility fees like that charged Frosh also support research, teaching, and the cost of complying with licensing requirements that private physicians’ offices are not subject to. She said Tufts is still one of the lowest-cost academic medical centers in the state.” Okay, this sounds like standard PR malarkey. Deflect the obvious allegation with some meaningless, relative qualifier. Hey, our product causes cancer, but the state you live in has the lowest cancer rate in the nation. Uh-uh, we’re doctors. We’re smarter than this type of faulty logic.
The Tufts spokeswoman goes on to say, “Many in the health industry believe the use of the surcharge has expanded as hospitals buy up physician practices in the community.” So what do you do here? We need hospitals to treat patients, right? But what if the hospitals are buying up practices and then hijacking the billing process? This is isn’t something you can answer with a simple sentence. But we can keep up the vigilance, and do our best to keep people aware of these unjustifiable circumstances. And while we support free market activity (of which, acquiring a business is common), can we agree that doing such business to ultimately blindside people with unfair charges IS UNETHICAL. Once again, we’re prompted to remind fellow and aspiring concierge doctors: make price transparency your friend. As a friend’s grade school principal once said, “If you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”
Check out the complete article if you have time. There are more than a few documented horror stories. Supposedly, not all the hospitals defend their own fees, which says a lot about the current healthcare climate.