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When hospitals 'can't deny treatment'

By Jo Lee Ferguson answerline@news-journal.com
Dec. 23, 2011 at 11 p.m.


<strong>QUESTION:</strong> Are hospital procedures such as MRIs, surgeries and chemotherapy part of the "can't deny treatment" law? If so, wouldn't the doctors be required to treat you for free? Also, is it legal for hospitals to provide discounts to patients who have no insurance and pay cash upfront versus making an uninsured patient pay full price if the patient is making payments? Does it affect a person's credit rating if he or she stops making payments on hospital bills?

<strong>ANSWER:</strong> The "can't deny treatment law" applies only to emergencies, and it doesn't mean you don't have to pay the bill. The Patient Advocate Foundation helped me out with the particulars.

(The foundation is a direct patient services organization that exists to "eliminate obstacles for patients trying to access quality healthcare." Visit www.patientadvocate.org or call (800) 532-5274 for information.)

The federal law passed in 1986 assures you emergency care, regardless of your ability to pay, but it does not mean the service is free, according to Erin Moaratty, chief of external communications for the Patient Advocate Foundation. The law applies to tests, surgeries or any service necessary to stabilize a patient.

"The federal law applies to hospitals that participate in Medicare - and that includes most hospitals in the United States. The law entitles you to three things: screening, emergency care and appropriate transfers," Moaratty said.

"A hospital must provide 'stabilizing care' for a patient with an emergency. The hospital must screen for the emergency and provide the care without inquiring about your ability to pay. ... If you're not having an emergency, then the hospital emergency room does not have to treat you. The hospital most likely will direct you to your own doctor or to a less-intensive-care setting.

"Payment is between you and your insurance company. If you don't have health insurance, then you still will have to make payment arrangements with the hospital."

Longview Regional offers a 25 percent discount to all uninsured patients, whether they pay in total or make payments, and a 40 percent discount to uninsured patients who can pay their bill in total upfront.

Good Shepherd also offers cash pricing for people who are uninsured or who have high deductibles, with the hospital saying its discounts are based on a "schedule" instead of a percentage.

"Many uninsured patients are able to take advantage of the cash pricing discounts by resolving their cash price within the 30-90 day timeframe," information from the hospital said. Financial assistance might be available to people who can't pay their portion of the bill in 30 to 90 days.

(Depending on the situation, charges for physicians' services, anesthesiologists, etc., might be billed separately. Make sure you talk to the hospitals to find out specifics.)

Moaratty also suggested speaking to a hospital social worker or billing department manager if you're unable to pay your bill. Many hospitals and providers have programs in place to assist people who cannot pay. That's important because she said your credit could be affected if you don't pay your hospital bills.

*

<strong>Q:</strong> Who came up with the Santa Claus figure at Christmastime?

<strong>A:</strong> It started in 280 A.D. with a monk by the name of St. Nicholas in what we now know as Turkey. The History Channel website says he gave away his inheritance and traveled, helping the sick and poor and becoming known as the protector of children and sailors. He died on Dec. 6, and that's when his feast day is celebrated.

In 1773 and 1774, Dutch families in New York recognized the anniversary of his death.

Then, in 1804, New York Historical Society member John Pintard gave out "woodcuts" of St. Nicholas at the society's annual meeting.

"The background of the engraving contains now-familiar Santa images including stockings filled with toys and fruit hung over a fireplace," the History Channel website says.

I would say the commercialization of Christmas really took off a couple of decades later, when holiday advertising sections began appearing in newspapers with images of Santa Claus.

The famous 1822 poem "An Account of a Visit from St. Nicholas" - you know, "Twas the Night Before Christmas" - helped further establish the Santa Claus we know and love today. And political cartoonist Thomas Nast gave that character a face in 1881 with a cartoon that appeared in Harper's Weekly, according to www.history.com.

<em>- Email questions to answerline@news-journal.com, leave a message at (903) 232-7208 or write to P.O. Box 1792, Longview, TX 75606.</em>

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