'Bad debt' from insured patients a growing problem, survey indicates

While many hospitals nationwide have struggled to collect money from patients lacking health insurance in recent years, a survey conducted by the Delaware Valley Healthcare Council determined that patients with insurance have actually become more of a problem with regards to not paying their bills, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports. 

The survey, which looked at financial statistics of 36 hospitals in and around Philadelphia from 2008, determined that overall, bad debt grew to $550 million in '08 from $490 million in 2007, a 12 percent jump. For patients with coverage, however, bad debt increased a whopping 28 percent, from $76 million to $97 million. 

A lot of the problem seems to stem from plans with higher deductibles and lower premiums, according to the article. While at the outset, such plans seem attractive, many patients end up encountering medical emergencies that leave them with what Troy Roth, vice president of revenue-cycle product strategy for MedAssets, calls "sticker shock." 

"It's not uncommon to see bills over $5,000 that are owed by patients," Roth told the Inquirer. "I've seen plans that don't kick in benefits until $10,000." 

Kenneth Braithwaite, regional executive for DVHC who does not endorse such plans, likened them to "a rock in a box that somebody's trying to sell." However, he also believes that the insurance that eventually will be offered under the new healthcare law-in which deductibles could be as high as $2,000 for individuals and $4,000 for families-will only add to a problem he sees as a nationwide epidemic. 

"I get a pretty decent salary, and $4,000, to me, is a lot of money," he told the newspaper. 

To learn more:
- here's the Philadelphia Inquirer article