U.S. Hospitals Discriminate Against the Uninsured

I have had several occasions to observe personally that U.S. hospitals, including those right here in Fulton County, Georgia, charge uninsured patients more than insured patients, and, therefore, are discriminating against the uninsured every day. This has become obvious to me simply by comparing my case files in which my client is insured with health insurance versus my case files in which my client is not insured. The contrast is stark and leads me to conclude that U.S. hospitals discriminate against the uninsured by charging them more for the exact same medical services and products than they do insured patients.
Now there is absolute proof of this. Amazingly, it comes from one of their own, Gerard Anderson, Director of the Center for Hospital Finance and Management at Johns Hopkins University’s school of public health, the author of the study which was published May-June issue of the journal Health Affairs. The study showed that in 2004, the most recent year for which data was available, hospital patients without health insurance and others who pay for medical care out of their own pockets were charged an average 2.57 times more than those with health insurance. Hospitals in the United States have come under fire from patient groups and lawmakers for marking up prices for those lacking the negotiating clout of a health insurer. But the price discrepancies are steadily worsening despite some reform efforts, the article said.

“The mark-up on hospital care for these individuals, especially for those who can afford it least, is unjustifiable,” said Anderson. More than 60 class-action lawsuits have been filed against U.S. hospitals over the issue. Anderson has been an adviser on some of them. About a year ago, the American Hospital Association enacted a voluntary policy for poor and uninsured patients.

But that policy has yet to show an impact and it is unclear how many hospitals are abiding by the price suggestions, Anderson said.

Anderson recommends pursing the ongoing class-action lawsuits and having the government set a maximum amount that hospitals can charge as prescriptions to remedy the problem.

There is really no excuse for U.S. hospitals to treat the uninsured differently and less favorably than the insured. The uninsured have no bargaining power or leverage whatsoever to protest. They are at the mercy of the hospitals. The study suggest that class action lawsuits may be the only way for the uninsured to realize any justice, yet Congress has already placed such severe restrictions on the ability to bring a class action lawsuit ( and are constantly considering even worse restrictions) that I questions whether than is really even meaningful to those wronged.

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