Last week I wrote about the Affordable Care Act and its impact on filing your federal income taxes. Was this the most efficient way to implement affordable health care? Probably not, but in the end it doesn't matter. The fact that we have a law that is helping so many people get health care is in my mind a good thing. And in my less-than-expert opinion, here’s why: Everybody loses when people are uninsured.
When a patient doesn't have health insurance, the patient loses. Preventative care frequently catches disease in an early enough stage for treatment to be both faster and cheaper. By the time an emergency room visit is warranted, the cost, time to cure, and potential prognosis are all far worse.
Emergency rooms can’t turn anyone away for lack of ability to pay. But all hospitals, for-profit and non-profit alike, will make every attempt to collect for the services. This means the patients will be billed, and when they do not pay, they will be called and repeatedly asked for payment. When the hospital finally turns the account over to collections, a new set of calls will begin, with increasing pressure or threat levels. All the while their credit reports will reflect outstanding bills, collections, and a much lower credit score. They will be unable to get loans, be subject to higher interest rates, and in many cases will not qualify to rent an apartment. The patient loses again.
The hospitals and doctors lose revenue for patient care. After turning these delinquent accounts over to collection, they write off the loss as charity care and deduct it from their expenses, reducing their taxable income. Federal, state, and local governments lose.
Hospitals and doctors then increase their prices to make up for lost revenue. Insurance companies have to pay higher costs. Insurance companies lose. Insurance companies raise their rates to make up for increased expenses. The consumer loses.