Monday, August 20, 2007

A Hospital Could Still Ruin Your Life, But Soon It Won't Be Able To Collect Afterward

By Manifesto Joe

You've probably heard the horror stories: sponges left inside surgical incisions, people falling and breaking limbs, bedsores, pressure ulcers, various infections from prolonged use of catheters, patients receiving incompatible blood, and so forth.

What you may not have known is that hospitals could then bill Medicare for the cost of repairing these preventable damages. I'm nothing short of astonished to discover that this has been going on for so long -- and then, even more astonished that this, in the era of Bush, is about to change.

It's a huge anomaly for the Bush administration: They are actually about to act upon a good directive that Congress gave them in a 2006 law. The bottom line is that if somebody enters a hospital with a different ailment and ends up falling and breaking their hip, the hospital can't bill Medicare for the hip repair surgery. Until now, they've been able to do that. No kidding.

No more. The New York Times reports:

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and the CDC says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year -- about 270 a day."

And then, the ones who do live -- the hospital gets Medicare payment for repairing the damage? How long did this go on?

Oh, well, somebody finally noticed. And it didn't escape my notice that among those who did were the private insurers. Again from The Times:

"Private insurers are considering similar changes, which they said could multiply the benefits and savings for patients."

Yeah, I'm sure that was their first consideration in the matter. Well, sometimes one must take the sporadic windfalls of life where one can get them.

And, if you were worried about where the bills for these screw-ups would finally go, this is actually one of the reasons it took a year or so for this to be implemented. Again, The Times:

"When the rules were proposed in May, consumer advocates said they feared that some hospitals might charge patients for costs that Medicare refused to pay. But the final rules say, 'The hospital cannot bill the beneficiary for any charges associated with the hospital-acquired complication.' "

Enjoy it while it lasts, seniors.

Manifesto Joe Is An Underground Writer Living In Texas.


Marc McDonald said...

Thanks to "Sicko," the health-care debate is once again front-and-center in America.
I hate to be the doom-and-gloom guy here, but I simply don't believe that we will ever have a universal health-care system in America.
It's true: the idea is popular and a majority of Americans want such a system. But anyone who thinks that this alone will prompt our leaders to enact such a system is blind to the reality of the America of the 21st century.
I don't even think the problem lies with the politicians necessarily. The problem is our money-corrupted system itself.
Corporations like Humana, with their billions, are not going to simply go quietly into the night.

cwilcox said...

Hey Marc, quit being so doom and gloom! ; ) I heard about this on NPR today. I nearly drove off the road! When I recovered I wondered how jaded have I truly become when I figured that somebody somewhere is going to make a killing off of this. Most likely it will be a way for hospitals to refuse service to people they don't want to treat or something...I am too jaded aren't I? Hey Marc, never mind, gloom and doom all you want.

Manifesto Joe said...

This was cross-posted on another blog, and I got comments from a few people, among them a lawyer and another who had a relative illegally fired from a nursing job because she was a whistleblower about a hospital's mistakes. They were of the opinion that this could make things worse, not better, because these hospital corporations always have lawyers who can beat up your lawyer.

Good points, I conceded. But my reply also said that when you're trying to fight corruption, the first step is to stop subsidizing it. At least this is a step in that direction.