America already guarantees free health care (kind of) to everyone. By law, hospitals have to give care to everyone who enters their emergency departments. From Voices of San Diego:
It’s called EMTALA, short for the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act. President Ronald Reagan signed it into law in 1986. It’s regularly cited as one of the greatest unfunded mandates our government ever passed.
EMTALA mandates not only that hospitals take care of anyone who enters their emergency departments — anyone — but that they not discharge those patients unless they’re safe and stable.
To recoup their losses, hospitals simply pass the costs to insurers, and the rest of us, through higher rates. Though some of that sounds like more justification for simply gouging the rest of us.
“To recoup their losses,” Roberts wrote, “hospitals pass on the cost to insurers through higher rates, and insurers in turn pass on the cost to policy holders in the form of higher premiums.”
And hence to me, as I gulp at our employees’ health care bill.
The numbers really are brutal. In 2011, Sharp Healthcare had to give $287 million in so-called “uncompensated care.” For Scripps, the number was $268 million. For UCSD? $80 million.
Uncompensated care is a bit of a misnomer. The hospitals don’t just absorb that loss and pout. Not all of it.
They have people to pay. Doctors aren’t cheap and their supply is controlled.
No, they pass those costs onto people with insurance. It’s an unfair burden for employers committed to providing health care to their employees. It certainly doesn’t make it easier to hire people.
The entire health care system in our country is one big ponzi scheme. The hospitals charge more for the uninsured, and more importantly, for the insured. Hospitals can charge ridiculous rates and insurance companies, after negotiating them down to a less-but-still-ridiculous rate pay them.
For my recent cataract surgery, the charge to use the hospital facilities for the 20 minute surgery was $14,000 per eye. That’s ridiculous. The insurance company got them “down” to $5000 an eye – again, just for the facilities, the surgeon and anesthesiologist was extra, as was the laser they used to cut my eye (that alone was $1100 out of my pocket, that I had to pay BEFORE they’d do the surgery). That’s an absurd amount to pay for cataract surgery, but I needed to see this particular doctor as I’m at a much higher risk of a detachment and blindness as a result of the cataract surgery, because of my past retinal problems. And that’s what the hospital charges.
I saw a video the other day of Krugman on CNBC in which he notes that if we simply got the cost of American health care down to the prices they charge in France, we’d likely solve our deficit problem.
Our problem is the cost of health care is bankrupting all of us. And our healthcare system is so corrupt, so ponzi, so inbred, that it reinforces the high prices.
So while I’m willing to accept that a portion of the higher prices comes from having to pay the medical bills of the uninsured, that’s not the only reason hospitals and doctors and insurance companies charge so much. They charge so much, as the old joke goes, because they can.