Outten & Golden: Empowering Employees in the Workplace

January 31st, 2003 | Paula Brantner

Uninsured pay higher health care costs

The results of a new study may come as no surprise to those who have ever had to pay doctor or hospital bills during a time they have been without health insurance. In a story featured in the Chicago Tribune, a study conducted by the Service Employee International Union’s Chicago-based Hospital Accountability Project showed that uninsured patients in Cook County (Chicago) paid more than twice as much for hospital medical care than those without insurance. Hospitals claim that federal rules prohibit them from charging higher rates to uninsured individuals; however, insurance companies often limit reimbursement rates for various procedures and prevent an uninsured patient from being charged the difference, which leads to uninsured patients being charged more. Some hospitals also claim that a high percentage of the total rates charged uninsured patients is uncollectible debt and that often lower payments are negotiated for those who are unable to pay the full amount, but some patients have reported being hounded by collection agencies and hospital staff to pay the entire amount they were billed, even though the amount billed to an insurance company would have been much smaller. Since an estimated 14.6 percent of the U.S. population is without health insurance–a number that may increase as more people lose their jobs or accept lower-paying positions without health benefits–this problem, although identified in the Chicago area, is likely to happen across the country.

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