Christensen: Sickening Hospital Practices

By The Hon. Donna Christensen, on March 9, 2020

Christensen: Sickening Hospital Practices

Read the full op-ed in the Register-Guard

“Hospitals are nothing short of critical for the 4 million people living in Oregon. We depend on hospitals when we are sick or critically injured. Often when we turn to these institutions, we are scared and desperate, and going to the hospital may be our only option. But increasingly, troubling practices are becoming common here in Oregon and across the country: We’ve seen a recent rise in predatory practices from hospitals in the form of outrageous surprise bills, wage garnishment, bankruptcy and unpredictable costs for treatment.

Americans are almost universally worried about the cost of health care, regardless of income level, age, gender, race or political identification, and for good reason. Not only do health care prices continue to climb, but also a startling number of patients have wound up with medical debt that they have difficulty paying off. In fact, more than $788 million in medical debt was reported on credit reports in Oregon, and 59% of bankruptcy filers in America believe that medical debt was a contributor to their bankruptcy. And hospitals, the largest individual contributor to health care costs in the U.S., are a major source of this financial harm.

Countless Oregonians are getting saddled with unexpected hospital debt due to a variety of factors, such as surprise billing. In emergency situations, it is not uncommon for consumers to go to in-network hospital, only to be unexpectedly treated by an out-of-network doctor. Take, for example, Jon Bartholomew, who was hit with a surprise bill because his in-network hospital subcontracted an out-of-network provider to read his MRI. This common practice of “balance billing,” exacerbated by other factors like high-deductibles, leave many patients unable to pay their medical bills and stuck in a toxic wave of debt.”