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Profile Information

Gender: Female
Hometown: Washington state
Home country: USA
Current location: Directly above the center of the earth
Member since: Sat Aug 16, 2003, 02:52 AM
Number of posts: 51,907

About Me

Major policy wonk interests: health care, Social Security/Medicare/Medicaid, election integrity

Journal Archives

Why Americans Are Drowning in Medical Debt


After his recent herniated-disk surgery, Peter Drier was ready for the $56,000 hospital charge, the $4,300 anesthesiologist bill, and the $133,000 fee for orthopedist. All were either in-network under his insurance or had been previously negotiated. But as Elisabeth Rosenthal recently explained in her great New York Times piece, he wasn't quite prepared for a $117,000 bill from an “assistant surgeon"—an out-of-network doctor that the hospital tacked on at the last minute.

It's practices like these that contribute to Americans' widespread medical-debt woes. Roughly 40 percent of Americans owe collectors money for times they were sick. U.S. adults are likelier than those in other developed countries to struggle to pay their medical bills or to forgo care because of cost.
California patients paid more than $291,000 for the procedure, while those in Arkansas paid just $5,400.

Earlier this year, the financial-advice company NerdWallet found that medical bankruptcy is the number-one cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. With a new report out today, the company dug into how, exactly, medical treatment leaves so many Americans broke.

Americans pay three times more for medical debt than they do for bank and credit-card debt combined, the report found. Nearly a fifth of us will hear from medical-debt collectors this year, and they'll gather $21 billion from us, collectively.

The single-payer model: a foundation for professionalism


Dr. Brian Day, founder of Vancouver’s Cambie Surgery Centre, and other commercial specialty clinics are suing B.C. to allow private funding of medical care. This would facilitate expansion of private diagnostic and surgical procedures and undermine the single-payer model. The integrity of Canada’s entire health system could be at risk.

Advocates for commercialized healthcare funding, now prohibited by the Canada Health Act, often promote a “hybrid model.” In 2012, Dr. Day wrote in a newspaper column that European countries successfully combine universal care with a public-private system, but he failed to address the different contexts of North America and Europe.

European insurance and healthcare sectors are highly regulated. For instance, in France, even supplemental health-insurance funds are not-for-profit, unlike in Canada, where supplemental insurance, now limited to pharmaceuticals, dental, vision and complementary care, is offered by for-profit corporations.

Canada has extensive commercial ties to the United States, not to Europe, and were the “hybrid” advocates to prevail, U.S. insurers could invoke NAFTA to gain access to an expanding Canadian health-insurance market.

U.S. insurance companies are unlikely to submit to a European-style model in Canada, where regulation in most sectors is already more American than European because of harmonization under NAFTA.

Furthermore, these insurance companies have the resources to get what they want. In 2013 the leading U.S. health insurers reported $12.7 billion in profit on $313.7 billion in revenue (U.S. dollars). According to OpenSecrets.org, that same year health insurers spent $154 million on lobbying U.S. lawmakers.

Using their financial clout, they could quickly change the landscape in Canadian healthcare funding for not only procedural medicine but primary care, mental-health care and other specialties.
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