1 in 6 Insured Americans Get a Surprise Bill for Hospital Care

Patients often aren’t aware they are being treated by an out-of-network doctor while in a hospital, and the cost of such can be quite unexpected.

Rachel Bluth, Kaiser Health News

About 1 in 6 Americans were surprised by a medical bill after treatment in a hospital in 2017 despite having insurance, according to a study published Thursday.

On average, 16% of inpatient stays and 18% of emergency visits left a patient with at least one out-of-network charge. Most of those came from doctors offering treatment at the hospital, even when the patients chose an in-network hospital, according to researchers from the Kaiser Family Foundation. Its study was based on large employer insurance claims. (Kaiser Health News is an editorially independent program of the foundation.)

The research also found that when a patient is admitted to the hospital from the emergency room, there’s a higher likelihood of an out-of-network charge. As many as 26% of admissions from the emergency room resulted in a surprise medical bill.

“Millions of emergency visits and hospital stays left people with large employer coverage at risk of a surprise bill in 2017,” the authors wrote.

The researchers got their data by analyzing large-employer claims from IBM’s MarketScan Research Databases, which include claims for almost 19 million individuals.

Surprise medical bills are top of mind for American patients, with 38% reporting they were “very worried” about unexpected medical bills.

Surprise bills don’t just come from the emergency room. Often, patients will pick an in-network facility and see a provider who works there but isn’t employed by the hospital. These doctors, from outside staffing firms, can charge out-of-network prices.

“It’s kind of a built-in problem,” said Karen Pollitz, a senior fellow at the Kaiser Family Foundation and an author of the study. She said most private health insurance plans are built on networks, where patients get the highest value for choosing a doctor in the network. But patients often don’t know whether they are being treated by an out-of-network doctor while in a hospital.

“By definition, there are these circumstances where they cannot choose their provider, whether it’s an emergency or it’s [a doctor] who gets brought in and they don’t even meet them face-to-face.”

The issue is ripe for a federal solution. Some states have surprise-bill protections in place, but those laws don’t apply to most large-employer plans because the federal government regulates them.

“New York and California have very high rates of surprise bills even though they have some of the strongest state statutes,” Pollitz said. “These data show why federal legislation would matter.”

Consumers in Texas, New York, Florida, New Jersey and Kansas were the most likely to see a surprise bill, while people in Minnesota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Maine and Mississippi saw fewer, according to the study.

Legislative solutions are being discussed in the White House and Congress. The leaders of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee introduced a package Wednesday that included a provision to address it. The legislation from HELP sets a benchmark for what out-of-network physicians will be paid, which would be an amount comparable to what the plan is paying other doctors for that service.

That bill is set for a committee markup next week.

Other remedies are also being offered by different groups of lawmakers.

Kaiser Health News (KHN) is a national health policy news service. It is an editorially independent program of the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation which is not affiliated with Kaiser Permanente.

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.

Escalating Workplace Violence Rocks Hospitals

Marlene Harris-Taylor, Ideastream

Across the country, many doctors, nurses and other health care workers have remained silent about what is being called an epidemic of violence against them.

The violent outbursts come from patients and patients’ families. And for years, it has been considered part of the job.

When you visit the Cleveland Clinic emergency department — whether as a patient, family member or friend — a large sign directs you toward a metal detector.

An officer inspects all bags and then instructs you to walk through the metal detector. In some cases, a metal wand is used — even on patients who come in on stretchers. Cleveland Clinic officials say they confiscate thousands of weapons like knives, pepper spray and guns each year. The metal detectors were installed in response to what CEO Tom Mihaljevic calls an epidemic.

“There is a very fundamental problem in U.S. health care that very few people speak about,” he said, “and that’s the violence against health care workers. Daily — literally, daily — we are exposed to violent outbursts, in particular in emergency rooms.”

Many health care workers say the physical and verbal abuse come primarily from patients, some of whom are disoriented because of illness or from medication. Sometimes nurses and doctors are abused by family members who are on edge because their loved one is so ill.

Cleveland Clinic has introduced other safety measures — such as wireless panic buttons incorporated into ID badges and more safety cameras and plainclothes officers in ERs.

But these incidents aren’t limited to emergency rooms.

Allysha Shin works as a registered nurse in neuroscience intensive care at the University of Southern California’s Keck Hospital in Los Angeles. One of the most violent incidents she has experienced happened when she was caring for a patient who was bleeding inside her brain.

The woman had already lashed out at other staff, so she had been tied to the bed, Shin said. She broke free of the restraints and then kicked and punched Shin in the chest — before throwing a punch at her face.

“There was this one point where she swung, and she had just glanced off the side of my chin. If I hadn’t dodged that punch, she could have knocked me out,” Shin said. “And she very well could have killed me.”

The encounter left Shin shaken and anxious when she returned to work days later. She still has flashbacks.

She used to be afraid to speak about these types of attacks, she said, because of what she calls a culture of accepting violence in most hospitals. “It is expected that you are going to get beat up from time to time,” Shin said.

According to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, incidents of serious workplace violence are four times more common in health care than in private industry. And a poll conducted by the American College of Emergency Physicians in August found nearly half of emergency physician respondents reported having been physically assaulted. More than 60% of them said the assault occurred within the previous year.

Groups representing doctors and nurses say that, while the voluntary safety improvements that some hospitals have enacted are a good first step, more needs to be done.

There is still a code of silence in health care, said Michelle Mahon, a representative of the labor group National Nurses United. “What happens if they do report it?” she said. “In some cases, unfortunately, they are treated as if they are the ones who don’t know how to do their job. Or that it’s their fault that this happened.”

“There’s a lot of focus on de-escalation techniques,” Mahon added. “Those are helpful tools, but oftentimes they are used to blame workers.”

In California, the nurses’ labor union pushed for a law giving OSHA more authority to monitor hospital safety. The group is now backing a national effort to do the same thing. “The standard that we are recommending federally holds the employer responsible,” Mahon said. “It mandates reporting of incidents and transparency.”

The Workplace Violence Prevention for Health Care and Social Service Workers Act, introduced last fall in Congress, would require hospitals to implement plans to prevent violence. And any hospital could face fines for not reporting incidents to OSHA, Mahon said.

The goal of the legislation — and of the union — is to hold administrators more accountable for acts of violence in their hospitals.

The Top Hospitals for Patient Experience in 2017

Healthgrades says it has identified the top 15 percent of facilities when it comes to patients experience.

from Healthcare Finance

This week, Healthgrades named more than 400 hospitals to its 2017 Outstanding Patient Experience Award class highlighting those facilities and systems that excel when it comes to keeping patients happy.

Read More →

Disclaimer: The viewpoint expressed in this article is the opinion of the author and is not necessarily the viewpoint of the owners or employees at Healthcare Staffing Innovations, LLC.