Debt is debt, right? No, it’s not.
When people don’t pay health care bills, we assume they can’t afford to. While that may be the case, it’s not always the case, but it’s nearly always assumed to be the case. And when health care bills are not paid, do we ask what other non essential bills are unpaid or paid for that matter?
Hey, if you have no insurance and end up with a $50,000 hospital bill, you’re in trouble. But we also need to ask is that person being billed at a rate higher than would be accepted by an insurer and if so, why. If the bill is $5,000, how does that fit with other bills and spending?
In other words, should health care bills be handled differently than any other financial obligation an individual incurs? Nobody wants to answer that question.
Doctors are realizing that financial barriers to treatment and budget squeezes from bills can be as harmful to patients as disease, said Dr. Marty Makary, a surgeon and researcher at Johns Hopkins Medicine who studies hospital debt collection and is urging UVA alumni to press for further change. “I have not talked to a single patient or student of UVA or faculty member or alumni who thinks it is reasonable for the hospital to sue patients who cannot afford their bill,” he said.