Monday, November 24, 2008

Another good reason to have single-payer healthcare.

Only people with big savings accounts deserve healthcare in the for-profit world.

Business Week
Health November 20, 2008, 5:00PM EST
Hospitals X-Ray Patient Credit Scores
More and more are buying credit data to see if the sick can afford treatment
By Robert Berner and Chad Terhune

In the hospital business they call it a "wallet biopsy." A growing number of medical centers are using sophisticated software that digs into patients' finances to help determine whether they will receive free or discounted care.

The procedure, which is not understood by most patients or even many doctors, generally doesn't come into play when there is an emergency. But it has raised eyebrows for several reasons: Hospital administrators are looking at patient data—credit scores, credit-card limits, and 401(k) balances—not usually associated with treatment decisions.

Patients are surprised to learn that they're being subjected to the analysis, especially so in the case of nonprofit hospitals that historically have been magnanimous with charity care. And some health experts fear that hospitals will use techniques borrowed from the mortgage and car-loan industries to deny treatment to consumers with little or no health insurance...

The article goes on to profile a dozen or so patients who were denied care or denied discounts because of software the hospitals used to determine whether or not they "could pay." I don't think this is the type of healthcare we want, class.

...The surest sign that wallet biopsies are catching on is the proliferation of analysis companies offering their services to the country's 5,000 hospitals. SearchAmerica says that it has 1,000 hospital clients. The three major credit bureaus—TransUnion, Equifax (EFX), and Experian (EXPGY)—are marketing their own customized software for medical providers. And this summer, private equity giant Bain Capital invested $50 million in MedeFinance in Emeryville, Calif.

Lawmakers in one state, Minnesota, have tried to restrict medical credit scoring. But Republican Governor Tim Pawlenty vetoed a bill in May that would have required hospitals to provide care before seeking a patient's financial data.

Lori Swanson, Minnesota's Democratic attorney general, had proposed the legislation. "It's easy to imagine a slippery slope," she says, "where [credit] scores get in the way of appropriate treatment."

It's not a slippery slope, it's a gaping precipice between the sick and medical care. Health care is a basic human right - no one should ever be turned away, period, for any curable or reasonably treatable illness or disease or injury. No, that's not a blanket right to have any and every off-the-wall cutting edge treatment that might give you a couple more days or weeks. But an effective model for preventative care and effective care for long-term illness cannot involve for-profit insurance companies and hospitals. It's true that there isn't enough money to pay those Billions-with-a-B dollars in bonuses and stock options to CEO and profits and dividends to shareholders while still providing care for everyone. In every other industrialized (read: decent) country, that means you ditch the overpaid CEOs, not ditch the sick. Only here in the US is healthcare not considered a basic human right.

But that doesn't mean it isn't, and denying people care is a violation of those rights, whether the CEOs admit it or not. Every last one of them will have to answer to their Maker one day - and in the meantime, they should answer to us.

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