Thursday, September 19, 2019

U.S. Hospitals That Operate on the Greed Principle

Life & Death

An article (“How Greedy Hospitals Fleece the Poor;” September 11, 2019), by Libby Watson in The New Republic reports on how greed permeates the decision-making of some hospitals in the United States. Such greedy hospitals show no regard for the poor of society, have no understanding of what it is to be poor, and, of greater significance, have carelessly forgotten (that is, if they ever knew) of what is their fundamental  purpose as a provider of healthcare. (Hint: It is not to make huge profits; it is to help heal people)

Yet, not all hospitals and their leaders accept this mandate. For such hospital administrators, it is chiefly, or perhaps only, about money; Watson writes about such examples:
On Monday, a Kaiser Health News report detailed the University of Virginia hospital system’s heartless pursuit of poor patients who owe them money. The hospital has sued its patients 36,000 times over six years, for as little as $13.91, with devastating consequences. The hospital has garnished wages and put liens on houses, levying high interest on delinquent patients. It sued its own employees for unpaid bills around 100 times a year.
It’s not just happening at UVA, though they are particularly aggressive. Last week, The New York Times reported on Carlsbad Medical Center in New Mexico, which has sued many more of its patients for unpaid medical bills than nearby hospitals; even the county judge who hears the cases was sued. In June, ProPublica published a story on Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare Hospital in Memphis, which filed 8,300 lawsuits against patients in five years.

These hospitals are outliers in their communities, pursuing cases more aggressively than other hospitals do; some don’t file lawsuits against patients at all. These particularly aggressive hospitals are only known about because reporters have highlighted their practices. How many more of the 6,210 American hospitals are suing their patients? And, in turn, how many Americans have been sued by their hospitals? We don’t know, but it’s at least thousands.
This helps explain why hospitals and the health insurance industry do not want single-payer government medicare (as is the case in Canada, where there are no such stories) made the primary health choice for Americans. “Medicare for All” means just that; no special privilege for the wealthy, and, more important, no going into debt for the average Joe or Jill because of unpaid hospital bills.

Greed. Unchecked greed, plain and simple. It is the same reason that there is a misinformation and disinformation campaign about such a fair and equitable system. It would likely reduce how much these hospital and insurance executives get paid. It is about the money. As long as institutions reward this, it will remain normative. Then we all suffer.

Not surprising, but disheartening. But, then again, this practice is normative in a system that rewards greed and, consequently, ensures that hospital executives and administrators are wealthy, at least in the top 10 percent, if not wealthier. They too are caught in the trap, the treadmill, take whatever metaphor fits, of meritocracy. A false promise, a beguiling one, that appeals to the ego.

Thus, they want more. For these greedy executives, it is profits and personal gain over people. There is a kind of rule of what usually happens when money is worshipped like this. If money becomes the focal point of someone's life, he will never be satisfied, and he will become more callous and more cruel. The love of money will affect his health, including his spiritual well-being.

As long as greed is institutionalized— as it has been for the last 40 years—there is little expectation for real change, but there is always hope. Both are human aspirations, but hope is of the non-material kind, anchored in unseen things. All in all, greed has to be seen for what it is, an unhealthy and deadly vice.


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