Hospital bills need transparency

The Detroit News

Rocky Raczkowski

Recently the Oakland County Commission passed a resolution to support full financial transparency and disclosure of the Michigan Catastrophic Claims Association Funds. While they should be commended for attempting to get at the problem, they fall short and aren’t asking the right questions. We keep focusing on who is paying the bills and not who is charging the bills and why they are so outrageously high.

The issue in my mind is hospital billing. Not just for auto insurance claims, but for all citizens who go to the hospital. People are being fleeced and it’s time we did something about it. We can all fall prey to this travesty. Our loved ones, our sick loved ones; the ones who need help the most are the ones in the crosshairs.

In a recent Time article, Steven Brill exposed the discrepancy between what hospitals charge and what medical products and services actually cost. The examples were staggering. From $308 for four boxes of sterile gauze pads that cost $3.99 over the counter to $18 for one Accu-Chek diabetes test strip which can be bought on Amazon for 55 cents each; hospitals are marking up their prices and gouging their customers/patients.

Here in Michigan, hospitals are not subject to the Consumer Protection Act. They exempted themselves from it. Therefore, they are not subject to disclosing their prices, which is wrong. Recent studies have found what Michigan hospitals bill for the same exact same service and what they expect their patient or customer to pay have appalling differences. For instance, when a patient gets an MRI, hospitals will receive $484 from someone on Medicare, $766 from someone on workers comp and yet they expect someone who is uninsured to pay a whopping $3,279 for the exact same service. This is a 677 percent mark-up.

A recent post on the Facebook page of www.stopovercharging.com tells the story of a patient who was charged $855 for a blood test that Medicaid pays $78 to cover. Does that seem wrong to anyone else? The longer we focus on what is being paid and forget to ask who is charging these vastly different prices, the more serious this problem will become.

Why is it that only the uninsured and auto accident victims pay these outrageous charges? These are the people who would seem to need the price break the most. Every other patient is paying two to three times less than these patients. Private health insurance, Medicare, Medicare and Workers Compensation insurance all pay substantially less. I believe this practice should be illegal under the Michigan Consumer Protection Act. Whether it’s Attorney General Bill Schuette or the Oakland County Commission, one of our elected representatives needs to stand up and call out this practice for what it is, wrong.

I support Michigan hospitals, which employ caring professionals who take care of our loved ones. However, the archaic practice of hiding their charges and overcharging those who are uninsured and need help the most must stop immediately. For the good of our state and our loved ones, it must stop now.

Instead of treating the cause of the problem, the Oakland County Commission acted on the symptom.

A better result would be to pass a resolution calling on the Legislature to put hospitals under the Consumer Protection Act. Then, the real healing can begin and their constituents would see real benefit from lower prices.

Rocky Raczkowski is president of Imperium Logistics LLC.