Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Uninsured: The Rest of the Story . . .

If you saw the 60 Minutes report on the uninsured, it most likely generated a reaction. I imagine few watched the report with an indifferent attitude.

Most people I have talked with were outraged the hospitals could “overcharge” patients.

I was outraged that those profiled in the story made excuses for not having health insurance.

While the story was focused on how much is BILLED to patients, I noted that nothing was said about how much was COLLECTED.

The low point of the report focused on Carlos Ferlini.

“Carlos Ferlini made a decent living (about $50,000 according to the report) installing and repairing gutters, but not enough to afford health insurance. Then, last February, Carlos fell off a roof while on a job in suburban Los Angeles.”

Ferlini was seriously injured; he fractured his skull and ribs and punctured one lung. He spent 18 days in St. Joseph’s, 14 of them in intensive care. He had no surgery and was sent home. Then he got the bill. "We knew we were gonna owe a large amount, and we know we have to pay it," recalls Peggy. Carlos remembers first seeing the $246,000 bill. "I showed my daughter, 'This is the bill?' And she say to me, 'Oh, my God."

Mr. Ferlini received the finest of care and paid nothing. He claims he could not afford health insurance.

I have no idea how old Mr. Ferlini is, but let’s say he is around 50. At age 50 he could have purchased a health insurance with a $5,000 deductible for less than $250 per month. Had he done so, instead of owing $246,000 his amount owed would have been $5,000.

He claims he cannot afford health insurance.

He also claims he cannot afford to pay his $246,000 bill.

I beg to differ.

So how much do the uninsured cost health care providers?

“Nationally, hospitals provide about $21 billion in uncompensated care every year, most of it going to uninsured patients, according to the American Hospital Association.”

Read that again. That’s $21 BILLION, and that is just the hospital portion. That does not include doctor bills, medicine or follow up treatment after discharge.

Much is made about those who are uninsured because of health conditions. The fact is, only 4% of the general population is classified as uninsurable. Even then, there are plans available for anyone who can fog a mirror.

Over the course of the year, I probably talk to half a dozen people who cannot qualify for major medical coverage. But every one of them are eligible for something.

If only half the population that is uninsured were to buy, at the very least, a $5,000 or $10,000 deductible plan, we would all be better off. In theory at least, if not in practical numbers, that $21 billion might be cut in half. In doing so, maybe the hospitals could improve their level of care for everyone.
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