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Hospitals raise their prices despite public outcry from over-burdened patients


Hospital visits

(NaturalNews) When word got out last year that a handful of hospitals throughout Florida were massively price-gouging their patients, experts predicted that the outrageous bills for services at these care facilities would quickly drop in response. But the exact opposite occurred, a new investigation has found, with many of these same hospitals not only charging the same ridiculous prices, but in some cases drastically more.

Researchers from the University of Miami looked at hospital prices both before and after the media picked up on the issue, evaluating the billing schemes at some 50 of the priciest Florida hospitals to see how they may have changed. They looked at these hospitals' total billing charges in the quarter of a year before news of the gouging first broke headlines, as well as in the quarter post-headlines.

In a five-year period spanning from 2010–2015, Bayfront Health Dade City topped the list of Florida's most expensive hospitals, with price increases nearly doubling. Following were Kendall Regional Medical Center, Heart of Florida Regional Medical Center, North Okaloosa Medical Center and Sebastian River Medical Center.

All of these facilities, and many others, despite having their names tarnished for taking advantage of patients, were found to still be charging the same or even higher prices in 2016, the researchers learned. Other than a minor setback of temporarily decreased share prices, these exploitative care facilities are continuing to get away with jacking their prices, and with no end in sight.

"We were thinking we would see a drop or lowering of some charges," Karoline Mortensen, co-author of a study published in the Journal of Health Care Finance that looked at hospital prices both before and after the publicity, told The Washington Post (WP). "There's nothing stopping them. They're not being held accountable to anyone."

The insurance system is utterly broken, and uninsured patients are even worse off

Part of the problem is that hospitals in most states can legally charge whatever they want for medical services because they know that a bulk of their patients' insurance companies will simply foot the bill. Insurance companies are responsible for negotiating rates, which they typically do on behalf of patients, so in the end prices decrease, at least to some degree.

But hospital costs are still prohibitively and unnecessarily expensive in many cases – especially for patients who don't have insurance, and who thus have nobody to advocate on their behalf for fairer pricing schemes. In the end, hospitals are raking their uninsured patients over the coals, while these patients have little at their disposal to fight this medical tyranny.

Even government programs like Medicare and Medicaid negotiate better pricing in order to decrease costs, and yet hospitals are still overcharging them at an ever-accelerating rate. With the exception of Maryland and West Virginia, states have no regulatory functions in place to prevent such price-gouging, which is effectively ruining American healthcare.

The other major factor is that among the hospitals included in the investigation only one operates as a non-profit. The rest are for-profit companies that apparently care more about making money than they do about caring for patients while charging a fair and appropriate rate for medical services.

"As hospital charges continue to rise and the best path forward to address price transparency continues to elude policy makers and stakeholders, it is important to recognize that hospitals may not respond quickly to public exposure and these initiatives," the researchers concluded in their earlier study, which likely reflects trends all across the country.

"The primary causes of extremely high markups in hospital markets are lack of price transparency and negotiating power of uninsured patients, out-of-network patients, and other disadvantaged payers."

Sources for this article include:

WashingtonPost.com

HealthFinanceJournal.com' target='_blank'>http://healthfinancejournal.com/~junland/ind...

FierceHealthcare.com' target='_blank'>http://www.fiercehealthcare.com/finance/when...

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