Hospitals Overcharging Patients, Nurses’ Union Says

Wed, 01/08/2014 - 9:22am
Sydney Lupkin

New data released by National Nurses United revealed that not only do a handful of hospitals charge patients more than 10 times the actual cost of treatment but that prices have been steadily increasing for nearly two decades.

Skimping on care, patients often pay for it with their health, said Joan Ross, co-president of National Nurses United.

“If you are presented with a bill, and you know that bill is something you can’t afford, you’re not going to go in,” Ross said. “You’re just not going to.”

Fourteen hospitals charged more than $1,000 for every $100 of their total costs, according to the union’s analysis.

The union compiled Medicare Cost Reports from 4,328 short-term acute care hospitals of the 4,655 that filed mandatory annual cost reports with Medicare, according to National Nurses United spokesman Chuck Idelson.  Criteria included that the hospitals’ revenue  be greater than zero, and that the hospitals have discharged at least 100 patients.

The union has analyzed these reports for the past 16 years, and it saw the biggest overall jump between fiscal year 2011 and fiscal year 2012, when hospitals charged 7 percent more than they had the previous year

Ross, who’s been a registered nurse in Minnesota for 40 years, said she’s watched as rising hospital prices have played a larger and larger role in patient care decisions.

“The first question — instead of triaging their physical and mental state — is not how ill you are but what kind of insurance you have,” Ross said. “That never was asked before, not when I started nursing. That didn’t come up as a question, nor should it.” 

Ross said steep hospital prices often drive patients to put their pocketbook before their health when it comes time to make medical decisions.

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