Hospital President “Retires” After Inviting Debt Collectors Into Emergency Rooms

Eustis, 59, has been under fire since a report last month by Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson about debt collectors hounding patients for money in emergency rooms and other hospital wards. Eustis, who has been president of Fairview since 2007, was instrumental in hiring a consulting firm, Accretive Health, that Swanson blamed for the heavy-handed tactics.

Fairview president to retire in wake of debt collection controversy

The Affordable Care Act at the U.S. Supreme Court

Guest post from Ashwin Madia.

The U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments regarding the constitutionality of The Patient Care and Affordable Care Act in March 2012. The Affordable Care Act stands as President Obama’s signature domestic achievement, promising affordable health insurance to every American. Congress narrowly passed the statute in March 2010 after a heated national debate. Opponents quickly filed suit to have key provisions declared unconstitutional.

Of the four federal appellate courts to rule thus far, three have upheld the law in its entirety while one declared the Act’s key provision—the individual mandate—unconstitutional. This post will discuss the background and important provisions of the Act, key arguments on both sides of its constitutionality, and what will likely prove to be the most important factor in the Supreme Court’s ultimate decision.

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Bankruptcy: The Best Argument For a Public Option

A recent study published in the American Journal of Medicine (PDF) reviewing personal bankruptcies found that medical bills contributed to 62.1% of all bankruptcies in 2007; 92% of these debtors had medical debts over $5,000. The rest met criteria for bankruptcy because they had lost significant income due to illness, or mortgaged a home to pay medical bills.

While that is not too suprising, what is interesting is that most medical debtors were well educated, owned homes, and had middle-class occupations. Three quarters had health insurance.

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Consumer Complaints Up, But Resources Are Down

The latest survey of front-line consumer agencies shows that while complaints went up, the resources to help consumers went down. 62% of the agencies reported that they received more complaints in 2008 than in 2007, and 47% of the agencies suffered budget cuts just prior to or during the survey period, with one being eliminated entirely.

Top consumer complaints for 2008, with 2008 ranking in 2007 in parenthesis:

  1. Auto: (1) Misrepresentations in advertising or sales of new and used cars, lemons, faulty repairs, leasing and towing disputes
  2. Home Improvement/Construction: (2) Shoddy work, failure to start or complete the job
  3. Credit/Debt Collection: (3) Billing and fee disputes, mortgage-related fraud, credit repair, debt settlement, predatory lending, illegal or abusive collection tactics
  4. Utilities: (5) Service problems, billing disputes with phone, cable, satellite, Internet, electric and gas services
  5. Retail Sales: (4) False advertising, defective merchandise, problems with rebates, coupons, gift cards and gift certificates, nondelivery
  6. Services: (9) Misrepresentations, shoddy work, failure to have required licenses, failure to perform
  7. Household Goods: (6) Major appliances and furniture, problems with nondelivery, misrepresentations, faulty repairs
  8. Landlord/Tenant: (10) Unhealthy or unsafe conditions, failure to make repairs or provide promised amenities, deposit and rent disputes, illegal eviction tactics
  9. (tie) Internet Sales: (7) Misrepresentations, nondelivery in online purchases; Home Solicitations: (8) Misrepresentations, nondelivery in door-to-door, telemarketing and mail solicitations, do-not-call violations
  10. Health Products and Services: (not in top 10 in 2007) misleading claims, failure to deliver

2008 Consumer Complaint Survey Report | Consumer Federation of America (CFA), National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA), and North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI)

Walmart: taxpayer-subsidized low prices

While the economy tries to pull out of its downward spiral, consumers are flocking to discount department stores like Walmart, looking for the cheapest products they can find. But Walmart’s prices are low for a reason: its business model includes relying on public benefits and services for everything from store security to employee healthcare.

So if you shop at Walmart, make sure to pick up something for your neighbors, because their tax dollars subsidized those “great deals.”

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Choose a hospital based on the chance you will die in it

If you enjoy morbid statistics, U.S. Department of Health & Human Services has got a website for you. At DHS’s Hospital Compare site, you can figure out (among other things) how many people died from various diseases at hospitals you are likely to visit.

Hospital Compare is awful to navigate, but there is a ton of information available. For example, you can dig around and find the death rates for pneumonia at several Minneapolis hospitals (all normal, phew).

Less sensational, but more useful, you can compare patients’ experiences at relevant hospitals, as well.

Compare Hospital Death Rates | Terri’s Consumer BlogCompare Hospital Death Rates

Medical debts are covered by the FDCPA, too

Although we spend a lot of time on debt collection and credit cards, more consumers are experiencing problems with medical debt than anything else. In fact, some consumers’ credit card debt may be linked to medical bills, as well. The fact that so many Americans cannot afford healthcare is a political problem, but debt collectors who turn abusive while collecting medical debts may be violating the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.

If you are getting calls, letters, or other communications from a debt collector, whether for a medical debt, a credit card, a car loan, or any other debt, you should take careful notes (PDF link) of the communications, record the phone calls, if you can, and, if the communications turn abusive, get in touch with a consumer rights lawyer in your state as soon as possible.

[photo: freerangestock]

Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act prevents insurers from using your genes to jack up your premium

Insurers would love to assess your risk based your genes. That is, if you were high risk for cancer, your insurer would prefer to charge you a higher premium, since there would be a good chance it will be paying for expensive cancer treatment at some point.

Of course, everyone has some genetic predispositions. But many have expressed the fear that if they find out what those genetic predispositions are, they will be charged higher rates by their insurance companies.

The Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act, which President Bush signed into law last week, removes this obstacle to genetic testing for consumers.

Also, if insurers were allowed to add up what it would cost to treat us and just charge us in advance, then we would be the ones gambling that we will get sick, and insurance companies would be no-interest (or reverse-interest) savings banks, not insurers.

President Bush Signs Genetic Nondiscrimination Act [Slashdot]

The Benefits (?) of Tort Reform

Following up yesterday’s post about tort reform in Texas, TortDeform posted a letter to the editor of the Bluefield Daily Telegraph (WV). West Virginian Gilbert Bailey says “So much for the promise of less expensive insurance premiums . . . .”

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Tort Reform in, Doctors Out

From Tortdeform comes the news that, following the Texas legislature’s 2003 sweeping tort reforms “designed to greatly reduce the frequency of medical malpractice lawsuits, the size of malpractice payments, and physicians’ insurance premiums,” the number of Texas physicians applications granted has actually decreased.

I’m not sure this is a news piece worthy of crowing about, but if it shows anything, it is that tort reform really doesn’t have much to do with the quality of healthcare. If anything, it looks like the quality of physicians applying for licenses in Texas has actually decreased. Or else Texas licensing requirements skyrocketed (unlikely).