December 26, 2012

548 lives, $11,659,349

The fact that yesterday was Christmas didn't inspire the Syracuse Post-Standard to take a break from publishing  judgments, satisfied judgments, and bankruptcies in bizX, the weekly business supplement.

Not only was yesterday Christmas, but it was also the last Tuesday of the year, so we won't have any more of these listings in 2012. That being the case,  I thought it a good time to reflect on what became a weekly series on the financial filings that stem from people receiving medical care, either from a physician, group practice, hospital or other facility.

My first post on this topic just sort of happened. I was skimming the judgments and noticed that there were quite a few listings for folks who owed money to medical providers.  The first week, it was 12 people totaling $260,918. 

The first post was in mid-July, only a short time after the US Supreme Court had affirmed the constitutionality of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, also known as the ACA, health care reform, PPACA, Obamacare, and my favorite, the Job Killing Health Care Law, so named by the Republicans in the House.  I decided to keep an eye on it for a while and see what happened. One month turned into two, then three, and now, after 24 weeks, we've reached the end of the year. 

The highest week, in terms of the number of people? Week 11, with 40.  In terms of dollars, it was week 6, with just short of $1.2 million.  On the low end, week 21 had the fewest people (six) and lowest total (slightly over $50,000).

Add up all of the weekly numbers, and the accounting stands at 548 lives and $11,659,349, or an average of $21,276 for each judgment, satisfied judgment, and bankruptcy. Just here in Syracuse and the Central New York area.  In just twenty four weeks.

I admit the accounting is not statistically valid. For example, it's possible a judgment could have been filed early on during the time I was tracking the weekly stats, and then satisfied at some point down the road; it's also possible that someone could have moved straight from judgment filed to bankruptcy filed, or been the recipient of multiple judgments - which means that it's not necessarily 548 unique people or $11,000,000 unique dollars. To do that type of accounting would have required that I pay attention to the names of the people, which is something I really didn't want to do.

I don't know the circumstances that landed these folks in this section of the paper. I don't have the faintest idea whether they had jobs, if they had health insurance through their employers,if their insurance company denied the claims,  if they were hanging by a thread in any of the safety net programs that are available to folks in New York, or if they made a conscientious choice not to pay their bills, in which case their landing in this particular section of the paper could have been avoided.

I do know that the vast majority of the filings were from our three local hospitals, and that according to their websites, all of the facilities - St Joseph's Hospital Health Center, Crouse Hospital, and SUNY Upstate Medical University - offer some kind of financial assistance, ranging from helping get patients into insurance programs to reduced payments or payment plans.

In  addition to efforts by the facilities themselves, those of us who have insurance, and our insurance companies, and many of our health care providers, contribute to indigent care programs through surcharges tacked on to certain medical bills; and all of us support safety net programs through the taxes we pay.  So basically, everyone's trying, here - whether by choice or by default - to help get medical bills paid.  The hope is that between private health insurance, government safety net programs, and other funding arrangements, we'll continue to have access to quality care when we need it.

But if we have over $11,650,000 in unpaid medical bills that have gotten to the point where papers have been filed, just here in the Syracuse area, in just under half a year, can you even imagine what the total must be statewide, or nationwide?

It can only be a staggering number.

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