Several US hospitals that sued patients who could not pay huge bills have agreed to clear their debts. But the practice persists, weakening thousands of families.
LETTER FROM WASHINGTON
Carrie Barrett will be able to breathe. This resident of Tennessee, treated twelve years ago for heart failure, has been released from a weight. After years of harassment, the Memphis Methodist hospital, Le Bonheur, which had hosted him for two days for exams in 2007, has just ended his lawsuit for an unpaid bill of $ 12,000. 000).
Over the course of the proceedings, the sum had even reached $ 33,000, double the annual income of the sexagenarian, according to the investigation of the group of investigations ProPublica who denounced these practices. The hospital announced on September 25 that it was clearing the bills of some 6,500 patients, some of whom included some of its employees.
Each year, hundreds of thousands of Americans receive calls or phone calls comminatory of "debt collectors", ordering them to pay a medical bill, which they did not suspect the amount. For lack of honor, some of them end up in court.
The opacity of health care costs in the United States, the jungle of health insurances offering a coverage with variable geometry according to the institutions and the practitioners or the absence of any social protection (for 27.5 million Americans) explain this phenomenon, which regularly puts families on the straw.
It is often impossible to know in advance the amount that will be required for this type of care. It all depends on the number of people who will intervene, the equipment used (some hospitals even bill the cotton swabs) and especially the competition around. Establishments in small towns operating in a captive market can thus charge high prices without having to justify them.
So the "surprise bills", recently denounced by US President Donald Trump, regularly amount to several thousand dollars.
The American press is full of family tragedies related to these enormous costs, which also occur in times of physical and social distress.
The extreme practices of a hospital in New Mexico have recently attracted criticism. The Carlsbad Medical Center has sued some 3,000 people over the last four years. A record. When she was rushed for the asthma attack of one of her children, a mother was trapped in these bad ways: she saw her bill at $ 3,600 with interest, recently told the New York Times. A few months later, she discovered that the hospital had seized $ 870 on her salary. In the process, she had to part with her car because she could not pay the bills.