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Thursday, November 20, 2008

What happens when the uninsured go to the emergency room?

The U.S. Census Bureau reports that an increasing number of people are now unable to afford medical insurance. Some 47 million people do not have medical insurance. When they begin to fall sick, there is nothing that can be done if money is short. When it comes to a choice between food on the table and treatment, most people decide to eat. They hope they will get better. When health does not improve, there is no improvement in the choice to be made. If treatment remains unaffordable, they have to wait until their sickness worsens to the point it can be considered an emergency. At this point, people decide to go to the emergency room at their local hospital. Federal law is very clear. Hospitals are under a positive legal obligation to treat everyone who walks in through the door. It does not matter whether the emergency is real, in the sense of a traffic accident inflicting unexpected injury, or to some extent manufactured, where the condition only becomes an emergency because of a deliberate delay. People must be given treatment. The difficulty is that most of the uninsured cannot afford to pay their bills. The hospitals can and do issue invoices for the treatment given and drugs supplied. This is also a part of the law. People have a responsibility to pay for their treatment. But hospitals are realistic about their chances of collecting. Continued pursuit for payment usually results in bankruptcy and the creditors only get a few cents in the dollar. So, hospitals make a rational decision. They spread all the unpaid bills among all those who can pay. In other words, whether you are paying out of your own pocket or you are relying on your own health insurance to pay for your treatment, a percentage of every hospital's bill is a provision against bad debts from the uninsured. The irony is that everyone who is insured is also insuring all the uninsured for their emergency room visits. If you have been wondering why your own health insurance premiums have been going up so sharply of late, it's because there is a wave of uninsured people going to the emergency rooms around the country. The health insurers are having to pay more and this additional cost gets passed on in the premiums. Is it going to get any better? No. It's actually going to get worse. Ever more people are finding health insurance unaffordable. Even with sites like this which allow people to find the cheapest insurance around, many still find the premiums too much. That does not mean you should give up. Using this site will get you offers. Then it's up to you to negotiate directly with the insurer or its agents to get the best actual premium for the cover. It's not worth the risk of being uninsured. If at all possible, get some cover.



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