December 30, 2008

Collecting care debts helps control costs

The Baltimore Sun's series regarding the debt collection practices of hospitals touched on an issue of importance to Maryland's business community - paying for the rising cost of health care ("In Their Debt," Dec. 21-23).

Unpaid hospital bills are one factor that significantly contributes to the health insurance premiums paid by employers and employees.

Most Marylanders get their health insurance through their employer. However, our health system must have reasonable incentives for cost containment and debt collection if health insurance is to be affordable for employers.

The series noted that more than $900 million in costs for uncompensated care were added last year to the bills of patients who did pay their hospital bills.

It is important that hospitals continue to collect payments from patients who have the means to pay their bills so that uncompensated care does not become an even larger burden on employers. There is no such thing as a free lunch or free health care. Someone pays the bill.

We must maintain the proper balance between collecting bad debt and protecting the truly indigent.

Kathleen T. Snyder, Annapolis

The writer is president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

Dunning the debtors ruins lives of needy

Congratulations to The Baltimore Sun for its series "In Their Debt" (Dec. 21-23).

As the series demonstrates, hospitals too often choose to exploit a broken system, sometimes illegally, with heavy-handed and heartless tactics. While institutions may financially gain from this approach, they are destroying their image and often ruining the lives of people who are truly in need.

In response to the investigation, the president of the Johns Hopkins Hospital and Health System proudly states that his institution spent $2.5 million of its own money to help patients obtain more than $80 million in Medicaid benefits in 2007 ("Readers speak out on hospital debt collection," letters, Dec. 24). But he leaves out who gets that money: Johns Hopkins itself. A 35-fold return on an investment is not an altruistic public service.

Medicine once was about healing and compassion but is now largely about money. It's time for change.

Michael Bennett, Baltimore

The writer is president of the Coalition for Patients' Rights.

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