It looks like Big Medicine may be getting into bed with Big Banks.
Laura Cameron, then three months pregnant, tripped and fell in a parking lot and landed in the emergency room last May — her blood pressure was low and she was scared and in pain. She was flat on her back and plugged into a saline drip when a hospital employee approached her gurney to discuss how she would pay her hospital bill.
Though both Cameron, 28, and her husband, Keith, have insurance, the bill would likely come to about $830, the representative said. If that sounded unmanageable, she offered, they could take out a loan through a bank that had a partnership with the hospital.
The hospital employee was “fairly forceful,” said Cameron, who lives in Fayetteville, Ark. “She certainly made it clear she preferred we pay then, or we take this deal with the bank.”
Hospitals are increasingly offering “patient-financing” strategies, cooperating with financial institutions to offer on-the-spot loans to make sure patients pay their bills.
. . .
But the loans can be a band-aid solution, leading vulnerable patients to sign up to pay far more than they should, said Kathleen Engel, a research professor of law at Boston-based Suffolk University and an expert in consumer credit and mortgage finance.
“The hospital potentially is charging the patient the full, what I would call ‘whack rate’ for their care,” she said. “They try to collect the debt.”
Since many of these loans come without credit checks or affordability tests, the odds are higher that a loan could be financially unwise, experts warn.
There’s more at the link.
I can only regard this as “predatory lending” in the classic sense of the term. If you’re lying on a stretcher or a hospital bed, in pain, scared, not knowing what’s facing you, that’s the worst possible time to be thinking about financial options and loan terms and conditions. You simply aren’t in a proper mental state to make such decisions. For hospitals to try to force you into taking out a medical loan, then and there, is unconscionable.
I understand that these hospitals are trying to ensure they get paid for the care they provide. On the face of it, there’s nothing wrong with that – but such methods can only be described as manipulative, to put it mildly. I think there’d be a good case for challenging any such agreement in court, on the grounds that the patient was not in a fit mental state to understand what he or she was signing.
If you should find yourself in hospital unexpectedly, and confronted with this sort of aggressive approach, I suggest you tell them to talk to your significant other, or ask them to wait until you’re in a proper mental and physical and emotional state to make such decisions. If they persist, tell them what they can do with the paperwork. After all, they’re in a place where it can be extracted once they’ve done that!