5 Alabama hospitals remain among nation’s worst for price gouging patients

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Five Alabama hospitals are among the nation’s worst in terms of price-gouging, according to a nationwide study of such activity.

Fifty U.S. hospitals are charging “approximately ten times their Medicare-allowable costs.” according to an article about the study in the Health Affairs online journal. The majority of those hospitals, 50 percent, are community health systems while another 28 percent are affiliated with the Hospital Corporation of America.

Despite the data having been collected between 2012 and 2013, Health Affairs’ Director of Communications Sue Ducat claims the information “still holds up.” The article was published in Health Affairs’ June 2015 issue.

The Alabama hospitals listed include Gadsden Regional Medical Center, Brookwood Medical Center, Riverview Regional Medical Center, and Decatur Morgan Hospital – Parkway Campus.

A Washington Post article, which examined the same data, had the breakdown as follows concerning Alabama hospitals: Gadsden Regional Medical Center was the worst offender in the state, ranking sixth on the list and marking up prices by 1,190 percent; Brookwood Medical Center came in at 14th, marking up prices by 1,030 percent; Riverview Regional Medical Center was ranked 18th, marking up prices by 1,000 percent; and Decatur Morgan Hospital – Parkway Campus was ranked 23rd, marking up prices by 980 percent.

Not listed in the Washington Post article, but identified by one of the study’s authors, Ge Bai of Washington and Lee University, was Stringfellow Memorial Hospital in Anniston, which is marking up prices by about 780 percent.

According to a news release from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health (JHBSPH), these prices mostly affect “out-of-network patients and the uninsured, as well as auto and workers’ compensation insurers.”

According to Leigh Hays, Director of Marketing and Communications for Decatur Morgan Hospital – Parkway Campus, the hospital was owned by a different entity at the time the research was done.

Since then, the hospital has come under the supervision of the Huntsville Health System and has decreased its cost to patients by 58 percent, putting it more in line with other not-for-profit hospitals.

Several Alabama lawyers were contacted for comment concerning the ability of hospitals to price-gouge, as well as possible moves that consumers can make to protect themselves.

While all noted that they do not have the proper credentials to go on record, most mused that the reason for the exorbitant charges was because there is no law on the books to curtail such practices.

The study calls for public disclosure of hospital markups to provide consumers with a way to decide where they will go for surgeries and routine medical care, as well as legislation to set a “maximum markup over cost that a hospital can charge to any patient.”

“This system has the effect of charging the highest prices to the most vulnerable patients and those with the least market power,” Gerard F. Anderson of JHBSPH, another of the studies authors, said in the press release. “The result is a market failure.”

With the exception of Decatur Morgan Hospital – Parkway Campus, none of the hospitals in question responded to requests for comment.

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