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The Almighty Buck Medicine

A Crowdfunding Site To Help Pay Patients' Medical Bills 285

Lucas123 writes: A start-up financial services company called Someone With Group has just completed a pilot of a crowdfunding service that allows hospitals to set up campaigns to help patients pay their medical expenses. The website, which is HIPAA compliant in terms of privacy and security, allows patients facing medical debts to inform family, friends and even strangers of their need for funds versus flowers or cards. The crowdfunding service also addresses a systemic debt issue in the healthcare industry. Each year, the U.S. healthcare industry writes off $40 billion in bad debt from unpaid medical bills. "Then you consider that $6 billion is spent on cards and flowers for patients every year. Why can't we redirect that money and put it into a debit instrument restricted to medical spending only?" said Jagemann-Bane, CEO of Someone With Group. One hospital group, Pinnacle Health Systems in Harrisburg, Penn., routinely writes off $40 million to $50 million a year in unpaid medical bills from patients. The hospital set up a crowdfunding site via Someone With Group and so far has seen a couple dozen patients use it. ... After a one-year pilot of the crowdfunding service, patients who've used it on average have raised $2,315.
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A Crowdfunding Site To Help Pay Patients' Medical Bills

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  • by crunchy_one ( 1047426 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:05AM (#51387615)
    I've got a better idea: Single payer.
    • Agreed: George McGovern's single-sentence addition to the Constitution is the best ("Medicare is hereby extended to cover all American citizens"); but nevertheless this is an outstanding common sense liferaft to throw in these troubled waters until this dying Empire somehow awakens from its cultural coma.
    • by sycodon ( 149926 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:43AM (#51387853)

      I have a better, better idea.

      1. Use real costs. The fact that there is an "insurance cost" and a "self pay costs" tells us all we need to know about medical bills. They aren't tied to the actual cost of service in any meaningful way.

      2. Make it transparent. How can anyone plan for non-emergency care when the prices are hidden behind a wall of Insurance red tape? I had an elective procedure done. I was quoted one price before and then presented with a bill for 5 times that later.

      • by damn_registrars ( 1103043 ) <damn.registrars@gmail.com> on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:50AM (#51387913) Homepage Journal

        1. Use real costs. The fact that there is an "insurance cost" and a "self pay costs" tells us all we need to know about medical bills. They aren't tied to the actual cost of service in any meaningful way.

        The problem with that is that a lot of people who end up in bankruptcy over medical costs have insurance. Their rates are already discounted for their insurance, but they can't afford their deductibles, copays, or uncovered expenses. Even if everyone paid the same price, that problem wouldn't go away.

        On top of that, as the primary mission of every insurance company in the country is to make money - not to provide coverage for the patient (as that costs money) - the insurance companies are constantly searching for clever new ways to deny claims. Being as the federal government essentially gave the insurance industry a license to print money back in 2010 with the affordable care act, they now have free reign to try whatever they want to "bring costs down".

      • I have a better, better idea.

        1. Use real costs. The fact that there is an "insurance cost" and a "self pay costs" tells us all we need to know about medical bills. They aren't tied to the actual cost of service in any meaningful way.

        2. Make it transparent. How can anyone plan for non-emergency care when the prices are hidden behind a wall of Insurance red tape? I had an elective procedure done. I was quoted one price before and then presented with a bill for 5 times that later.

        This is *exactly* the issue. That $40B that is "written off" is actually paid by the suckers who pay without insurance. Hospitals literally only collect something like 10% of what is "owed" to them, so they simply charge 10x as much.

        I often buy medical services without insurance because it's cheaper if you're a good negotiator. Reread that. I use a simple tactic that goes like this: "I need ______ done and I will pay cash up front at the medicare reimbursement rate." The response is then "we don't mak

        • I'm not sure whether this is true or not, but running an MRI is Expensive. The rate you quote (Medicare cost) wouldn't cover the real expense of running an MRI office. And that is the problem: Medicare doesn't cover the real cost and the cost is thus shifted to private insurances.

          The US government NEVER covers the real cost of anything: research has to be subsidized by student tuition, medical has to be subsidized by private insurance, public utilities are subsidized by private companies levying bills.

          And y

      • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 )

        Even the non-insurance costs are so high as to be unaffordable for most people. Health insurance isn't like car insurance, where most people won't ever cause much damage and so prices are low. Most people will have some kind of expensive illness in their life. About 40% of people in developed nations will have some kind of cancer alone.

        Obviously society also has a stake in general healthcare, as we have seen recently in areas where vaccination rates are low.

        It's also in societies interests to ensure that pe

    • There are problems with single payer too. It isn't just some magical cure all.
      I am not talking about money, the US is wealthy enough to fund this with increased taxes. However the issues is in the details.
      Giving all the population health care will increase demand for health care services, and if the health providers are limited to government controlled rates, then there is little motivation for expansion to meet such demand. So there will be long wait lines for health services. Hoping the long wait time wi

      • by Passman ( 6129 )

        Part of the problem is the way healthcare is billed in this country.

        If I go in and see a doctor, I'm billed for an office visit. If I get a flu shot, which I'm supposed to do every year given my underlying medical conditions, it's a separate billable expense. Take a test, that's another bill. Xray? Another bill.

        Maybe we should treat the patient as a whole, rather than as a series of billable events?

        • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

          Of course separate events are separate billable events. None of those other things are free. They cost someone money. They might not even be something that your local pill pusher can handle himself. Lab work is an obvious example.

          Even if they were all handled as a single invoice, accountability and auditing would require that they can all be broken out individually.

          EOBs are kind of crap already. They need to be MORE detailed rather than less.

    • The idea of a single payer system is good, but saying single payer is the solution and implementing single payer are different animals. How deep do you make it governmental? Every place the government and private sector have to interface is the opportunity for profiteering and potential denial of care. It is easy to say that other countries have done it successfully, but you are going to take the largest health care system on the planet out of private hands into government management. That is going to h
    • No. Way. You want to hand over healthcare to the same brain trust whose last pass was essentially "We're going to make health care more affordable by making more people buy it." Anyone who ever took Econ 101 could tell you that wouldn't work, and it hasn't.

  • by Joe_Dragon ( 2206452 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:05AM (#51387619)

    Just have medicare for all and get rid of the overpriced priced bills that have A single aspirin for $25

    • This is why I love living in the UK and will defend the NHS until my death.

      Here in the UK I don't have to worry about the cost of my healthcare, and if I want it quicker or I want a nicer bed then I always have the option of paying privately anyway.

      This is also why Jeremy Hunt can fuck off and keep his slimy mitts to himself.

      • I've supported the idea of something like the UK system for years. But people in the USA will need to get over a few things first. The biggest preconception people have is that under single payer, they will get the same treatment, but for free.

        Unfortunately, we insist on deluxe treatment (under threat of malpractice lawsuit for not providing the best care possible). That's not going to be easy for people to give up. Free, they can get behind. Not getting the nice bed in a private room, not so much.

        I tr

        • The biggest thing in US vs Europe is tax rate. The effective federal tax rate in the US is 25% for those that can't (really) afford either ObamaCare or private insurance. In the UK it's 45%. If you sink 20% of your income into private insurance, you can pay for very good private insurance in the US.

        • We just opened up a new hospital with 500 beds - all single room, with larger rooms and picture windows in each room, soundproofed, state of the art equipment, The idea is that by treating people more effectively in comfortable rooms that are large enough to accommodate family and friends, patient treatment will be more effective. And yes, we have single-payer universal healthcare.
      • This is why I love living in the UK and will defend the NHS until my death.

        Here in the UK I don't have to worry about the cost of my healthcare, and if I want it quicker or I want a nicer bed then I always have the option of paying privately anyway.

        I'm a fan of the two tier system as well. Assured basic coverage from a national system and the option to pay extra if you want a different service level. The big thing would be to get all the non-emergency patients out of the emergency room and into the system where they belong; since ER care is probably the most expensive in the hospital. Of course, it's not just a simple as offering free care elsewhere but ensuring they can navigate the system and have a way to get to the appointment; otherwise they'll s

        • A big issue being seen by GP's today is that there has been a loss of home-knowledge about illnesses in newer generations - an illness which would have put you in bed with chicken soup, a hot water bottle and a good book 30 years ago now necessitates a visit to the GP for antibiotics (even though they don't work against viral illnesses, as any doctor will tell you) or A&E if the GP surgery is closed.

          One of the quickest growing group of users of the NHS is in those under 30 - despite the UK population gr

      • by jedidiah ( 1196 )

        ...then you must not keep up with the news then.

        There's restrictions on cancer drugs due to budget restrictions.
        Doctors threatening to go on strike over pay cuts and work hours.
        Discussions about rationing of simple orthopedic surgeries or limiting them based on some yet to be defined "merit" criteria.

        In general, the order of the day seems to be budget cuts and rationing.

        Right now, the NHS is actually more of a cautionary tale.

    • Just have medicare for all and get rid of the overpriced priced bills that have A single aspirin for $25

      You hit on one of the numbers behind the $40 billion in unpaid bills. Hospitals jack up bills because they have to cover the costs on un or under insured patients; so you see $25 aspirins. Insurance companies pay no where near those prices; for example when I look at a bill a $500.00 bill becomes about $125 once all the negotiated prices are reflected in the bill. Hospitals have the high rack rates to try cover costs from those who can pay and don't have insurance. Even someone who doesn't have insurance w

    • And the aspirin (or equivalent) will cost you $0.25.

    • Where do you think the $25 aspirin came from? Medicare publishes how much they are willing to pay for a service code. The clinic then establishes a "cost" of double what Medicare will pay. Then your insurance company steps in and says "$50 for aspirin is insane, we'll only pay $35."

  • by ComputerGeek01 ( 1182793 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:07AM (#51387639)

    The problem isn't that these people got sick. It's that they have incurred these radical medical bills as a result of contracts between the hospitals and the insurance companies to intentionally drive up the prices. This is the definition of collusion and for the insurance companies it borders on racketeering. Every hospital in the US is just as guilty as every medical insurance broker and until we call them on their shit you're only going to make things worse by enabling them.

    But who cares as long as you can go to bed feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, right?

    • by Nidi62 ( 1525137 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:09AM (#51387647)

      But who cares as long as you can go to bed feeling all warm and fuzzy inside, right?

      You don't even want to see the cost of the tests they do when you come in with those symptoms.

    • Inflation adjusted cost for having a baby was about 1000$ in the 60s.
      • Infant mortality rate was also about 600% higher then too. (Source:Humanprogress.org)
      • I'm confused, I usually see this exact statement posted as an argument against the kind of thing I just posted. But I would suspect that, as a non-AC, you've actually done a cursory google search and found that it's actually an argument in favor of the point I'm trying to make: http://www.whattoexpect.com/pr... [whattoexpect.com]

        • Yes, I was supporting your point. Disaster only health insurance makes sense if you could pay for common procedures out of pocket. Also the profit caps on insurers actually give them a perverse incentive to drive up costs- the only way to grow their business is to increase subscribers or gross amounts on claims. There are myriad issues for the high cost of medical care and they are rarely discussed.
    • This hits close but one of the targets is off the mark. It is colusion between the drug companies and the insurance providers that catches the hospitals in the middle. Every year the price of every drug goes up by 10-15% and the hospital can't do a damned thing except budget for more drug increases. What else can they do? Let their patients die? Because the drug and insurance companies sure as hell will throw a few patients over board to pressure the hospitals.

  • by organgtool ( 966989 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:10AM (#51387649)
    While this is an interesting concept, I can't help but feel like this props up our predatory privatized health system which focuses more on profits than it does on treatment. If we're all going to pay for each other's medical bills via private insurance and crowdfunding, why not change to a public system rather than expect sick people to become beggars of their family and friends?
  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:10AM (#51387651)

    Only in the US would something like this be required.

    Please pick one of the healthcare models here in Europe instead - around here we don't consider the value of a person's life to be based on how rich they are.

    • around here we don't consider the value of a person's life to be based on how rich they are.

      I spent most of a decade working at a big medical center near the northern US border. So many [wealthy] Canadians.

      But, yeah, the US prices have gone nuts since the HMO Act of 1973. Here's [tomwoods.com] an Emergency Room doc talking about how bad it is and offering some solutions .

  • by Anonymous Coward on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:17AM (#51387683)

    or you could get with the rest of the civilized world and not have health care a for profit venture.

    • Right, because slaves give such good medical care. I am pretty sure that every country allows medical professionals to charge more than the cost of the products they provide.
  • It appears that the healthcare industry takes in over 3 trillion a year. 40 billion is what 1.3 percent? Maybe I missed a zero or something but it doesn't sound like it is a terribly big problem.

    • Indeed, and it's necessary to factor in the huge percent of the unpaid medical bills that belong to people forced to wait until their symptoms are bad enough to be seen be an emergency room... the health care program of too many Americans.
    • It isn't evenly distributed, and it isn't the only loss in the system.

      The goal and result of the last 50 years of tinkering has been to completely destroy the pricing system in medicine. No one in any part of the system has any idea of what anything costs. That includes patients, doctors, nurses, administrators, insurance companies, pharmaceutical companies, researchers, etc.

      Be extremely skeptical of any dollar figures you see related to mainstream medicine. None of them have any connection to reality.

      Do

  • Americans pay more for drugs than do most people around the world... that is indifferent to subsides.

    FDA regulations to say nothing of bans on imports of foreign drugs inflate American prices.

    Beyond that, a huge portion of hospital bills do not go to doctors or medicine or medical equipment. A huge portion goes to administration. Simplifying medical paper work and streamlining hospital labor could radically lower costs.

    We have test cases where shift nurses bypassed most of this stuff which had a dramatic im

  • Trying to fix the broken process by setting fundraising site is comparable to the ransom collection by the pirates of the seas, figuratively speaking. Slashdot article mentioned this arrangement because this site collected $2,315 on average per person. Clearly, the concept was executed by the layer of society, who believes in Obamacare, basic income, and free healthcare. Money are collected by the people who have a network anyway. For people without the network this website is not a big help.

    As far as stran

  • In saner societies (Score:4, Insightful)

    by sinij ( 911942 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:38AM (#51387829)
    In saner societies this service called universal healthcare and it is run by the government.
  • It's not meant to help the patient. It's meant to help the hospital. When a hospital provides you with a financial aid counselor, you know something is wrong.
    • Why is something wrong? When someone wants to make use of a large staff of highly trained professionals and millions of dollars worth of labs and equipment, but hasn't made any arrangements to actually afford all of that, it's not going to be a financially rosy scenario. Just like if that person accidentally burns down half of their house and then arranges for the services of an architect, demolition crew, and a homebuilder's crew, equipment, and materials to fix it back up ... but hasn't made any arrangeme
  • by bfpierce ( 4312717 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @09:50AM (#51387911)

    About an industry that can write off $40 billion and still make massive profits.

    It's not like getting all $6 billion of our 'card and flower' money is going to make them drop prices one dime.

  • I do not support this project or the idea.

    The figure "the U.S. healthcare industry writes off $40 billion in bad debt from unpaid medical bills" is disingenuous.

    Because healthcare insurance pays all its bills [citation needed], then unpaid bills are only payable by uninsured folk. This represents the retail price, which is orders of magnitude higher than the average selling price (the price health insurance pays).

    I do not recognize the authority of the healthcare industry to charge ruinously higher prices t

    • In other words, this sounds like one of those "credit card counselling" scams which are funded by the credit card companies and advise you to pay back your credit card debt. Or the same exact scam for people thinking about not paying their underwater house mortgages.

    • I do not support this project or the idea.

      The figure "the U.S. healthcare industry writes off $40 billion in bad debt from unpaid medical bills" is disingenuous.

      Because healthcare insurance pays all its bills [citation needed], then unpaid bills are only payable by uninsured folk.

      And Bingo! You pretty much summed up the issue here. The US was caught in a positive feedback loop. As more Americans were falling off the insurance roles, they took to going to emergency rooms for their medical treatments. These people were getting the most expensive healthcare in the world for relatively minor illnesses as well as more major ones. I got to verify this during the last year of my father's life when he went to the ER a few times. There were a lot of people there who looked like they just ha

  • Collectively empathizing with people who have fallen on hard times due to sickness, and helping each other out by small donations to help pay those bills? So basically it's health insurance, except it's one that the poor can actually afford. Won't be nearly as effective because it isn't mandatory though.

  • Simply pathetic.

    The rest of the big boy and girl countries have figured this stuff out, and the US is reduced to begging.

  • by yayoubetcha ( 893774 ) on Thursday January 28, 2016 @11:11AM (#51388595)

    My 92 year old mother-in-law passed last year. She had a DNR that was ignored. She suffered for another week and a half on total life support in intensive care before she passed. The hospital collected more than $300,000 in that time from Medicare. They had several specialists "stop by" (literally walking up to the door of the room, peaking in, and continuing.... ding... another $2500).

    This system is so fucking broken in the US.

    • Re: (Score:2, Informative)

      by Anonymous Coward

      If the DNR was legally executed, then this is Medicare fraud. Did your family report this to the government or even to the local media?

  • The doctor bills an uninsured patient gets have no relationship to the contracted amounts that would actually be paid for the same procedure (company plus patient copay) by an insurance company or government assistance. Indeed, the payment for a given procedure can be wildly different among insurance plans, even from one company.

    Hospital bills are even less related to the actual amounts paid for procedures. No, your insurance company is not really paying $25 for each aspirin you got during your stay. That l

  • That America is fundamentally broken...

  • Blatant ripoffs (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Erbo ( 384 ) <obreerbo&gmail,com> on Thursday January 28, 2016 @12:42PM (#51389517) Homepage Journal
    So, the health care industry, not content with sucking down one dollar in every five in the U.S. economy, wants to grab a few extra billion?

    When you take your car in to be serviced, the law requires that you be given a binding estimate of the costs involved before any work is done, and the mechanic is forbidden to exceed that estimate (within a small margin, like 10%) without getting your permission first. Mechanics who violate that law go to jail. Why do we not have those same kinds of consumer protections in the health care industry?

    Pharmaceutical companies routinely charge people in the U.S. more for their products than in other countries, such that a drug which costs $100,000 for a full course of treatment in the U.S. costs only $5,000 in India, or scorpion antivenom that is billed at $40,000 a vial in the U.S. is available for $100 a vial in Mexico. Yet, if you were to go outside the country, buy those drugs, and bring them back to the U.S., you would go to prison, thanks to a law bought and paid for by the pharmaceutical industry, a blatant infringement on the Doctrine of First Sale (which is that, once you buy something, it is yours to do with as you wish). The Supreme Court recently ruled (Kirtsaeng vs. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 568 U.S. ___ (2013), Docket No. 11-697) that this practice was impermissible in the textbook industry. Why, then, should it be permissible in the pharmaceutical industry?

    If we were to get rid of all the special exemptions that the health care industry has under law, and force it to abide by the existing law of the land (such as the Sherman, Clayton, and Robinson-Patman Acts), including prison time for health care and insurance executives where applicable, the cost of health care would drop by 80% or more. Most people could then pay cash for their health care needs for about the same as they pay in a deductible today...meaning "health insurance" would no longer be necessary (except for "catastropic care" policies for unforeseen circumstances, which would cost about the same as your car insurance). Some form of Medicare and Medicaid would still be required for the truly less fortunate, but would cost a lot less. Obamacare would no longer be needed and could be trivially repealed. The economy would experience a massive boost because health care would no longer be draining it, and every government budget deficit problem, Federal, state, and local, would be instantly solved. (Leading to secondary effects such as stopping the erosion of your purchasing power because the government keeps "printing money" to fund its deficit spending.)

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