Monday, August 20, 2007

A Hospital Could Still Ruin Your Life, But Soon It Won't Be Able To Collect Afterward

You've probably heard the horror stories: sponges left inside surgical incisions, people falling and breaking limbs, bedsores, pressure ulcers, various infections from prolonged use of catheters, patients receiving incompatible blood, and so forth.

What you may not have known is that hospitals could then bill Medicare for the cost of repairing these preventable damages. I'm nothing short of astonished to discover that this has been going on for so long -- and then, even more astonished that this, in the era of Bush, is about to change.

It's a huge anomaly for the Bush administration: They are actually about to act upon a good directive that Congress gave them in a 2006 law. The bottom line is that if somebody enters a hospital with a different ailment and ends up falling and breaking their hip, the hospital can't bill Medicare for the hip repair surgery. Until now, they've been able to do that. No kidding.

No more. The New York Times reports:

"The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that patients develop 1.7 million infections in hospitals each year, and the CDC says those infections cause or contribute to the death of 99,000 people a year -- about 270 a day."

And then, the ones who do live -- the hospital gets Medicare payment for repairing the damage? How long did this go on?

Oh, well, somebody finally noticed. And it didn't escape my notice that among those who did were the private insurers. Again from The Times:

"Private insurers are considering similar changes, which they said could multiply the benefits and savings for patients."

Yeah, I'm sure that was their first consideration in the matter. Well, sometimes one must take the sporadic windfalls of life where one can get them.

And, if you were worried about where the bills for these screw-ups would finally go, this is actually one of the reasons it took a year or so for this to be implemented. Again, The Times:

"When the rules were proposed in May, consumer advocates said they feared that some hospitals might charge patients for costs that Medicare refused to pay. But the final rules say, 'The hospital cannot bill the beneficiary for any charges associated with the hospital-acquired complication.' "

Enjoy it while it lasts, seniors.