This week in Medicine 12/26/14

Report: Nonprofit hospitals seizing patients’ wages to collect medical debts.
In a 3,500-word story co-published with NPR, ProPublica (12/19) reports on the use of lawsuits and wage garnishment by some hospitals to collect on medical debts. The piece says that while no one tracks how many hospitals sue their patients and how frequently, “ProPublica and NPR found hospitals that routinely did so in Kansas, Oklahoma, Nebraska…Alabama,” and Missouri. The article examines one hospital, Heartland Regional Medical Center in St. Joseph, Missouri, that has its “very own for-profit debt collection agency.” The agency, Northwest Financial Services, filed more than 11,000 lawsuits from 2009 and 2013. During that period, “the company garnished the pay of about 6,000 people and seized at least $12 million—an average of about $2,000 each.” Nonprofits, “which make up nearly 60 percent of US hospitals, have a history of aggressive debt collection,” according to ProPublica. Attached is a PDF of the news article if you are interested: From the E.R

Poll: More Americans say cost of healthcare is a “hardship.”
A national poll conducted by the New York Times (12/19, Subscription Publication) and CBS News this month found that the cost of medical care is more of a hardship for Americans. Nearly half of respondents “described the affordability of basic medical care as a hardship for them and their family, up 10 points from a year ago.” While the ACA has expanded insurance to millions of Americans, the Times says, “it does not directly address cost.” Indeed, more than half of respondents said their out-of-pocket healthcare costs have increased over the past few years. According to the article, this is partly because “newer insurance plans — including policies under the Affordable Care Act — are designed to make sure patients have ‘more skin in the game.’” Nearly a quarter of respondents said they were less likely to seek medical treatment because of cost.
The Hill (12/19, Ferris) also reports on the poll, adding, “While ObamaCare expands access to insurance and offers some free preventative services, it does little to help with many day-to-day costs.”

California insurance commissioner blasts Aetna rate hikes as “excessive.”
The Los Angeles Times (12/19, Terhune) reports that California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday that health insurer Aetna “is imposing excessive rate hikes on more than 5,000 small employers.” Jones “lashed out” at Aetna “for raising premiums as much as 20% on some small businesses starting Jan. 1.” However, he “has no power to stop it,” because California voters “soundly rejected Proposition 45, which would have enabled him to block rate hikes that his department deemed unreasonable.”
The Sacramento (CA) Bee (12/19) reports that California Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones said Thursday that “his department has repeatedly found that insurers, including Aetna, were charging too much” and that “the latest increase will cost small businesses $23.5 million in excessive premiums.” Aetna spokeswoman Cynthia Michener “said that though rate increases are never easy, the rates are based on actuarially sound data and a reasonable projection of future cost.”
Primary-Care physicians will see lower Medicaid payments in 2015.
Bloomberg BusinessWeek (12/19, Tozzi) reports that primary-care physicians will see a drop in Medicaid reimbursement rates in 2015. Bloomberg explains that the ACA guaranteed Federal funding to cover boosted rates for primary-care doctors in 2013 and 2014. President Obama’s proposed 2015 budget “would have continued the higher payments, but that provision never made it into the $1.1 trillion spending bill Congress passed on Dec. 13.” According to the article, the “bump in Medicaid reimbursements cost the federal government $5.6 billion for the first 18 months of the program.”

Amgen’s new lymphoblastic leukemia (ALL) treatment Blincyto (blinatumobab) will cost $178,000 for a two cycle treatment, making it the most expensive cancer medication out there.

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