EMT: “It’s unofficially our job to try and figure out what hospital won’t bankrupt you, and it’s bullshit.”

As it’s been a while since I’ve used this site to whip up righteous indignation over the state of health care in this country, I wanted to share the following story, ripped from the pages of Reddit today, about people who are forced into bankruptcy when ambulances take them to hospitals that don’t accept their insurance.


I know it goes without saying, but EMTs should be focused on saving lives, and not trying to prevent bankruptcies… And we should be in the streets, demanding single-payer health care.

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  1. Topher
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 6:07 am | Permalink

    A few years ago my sister got into a biking accident, split her lip wide open, chipped a tooth, and shredded her helmet. In her delirium and incoherent speech she stated that she was okay and that she didn’t think she needed to go to the hospital. As her eyes rolled in various directions, we thought she should. We called 9-11 and an ambulance came – similar situation as described above. Even in her f-ed up state, my sister was very concerned about whether her insurance would cover the ambulance ride. The paramedics were very kind of helped us figure it out. Luckily she was covered and off she went to St. Joe’s. My sister had to get stitches, x-rays, and an MRI to make sure her head was okay. I just thought it was a sad that we were all worried about whether she’d get stuck with a big bill (and she has decent health insurance!).

  2. Demetrius
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 7:48 am | Permalink

    We had a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to achieve single-payer (or something close to it) when President Obama was first elected by a large margin in 2008 — in no small part because of his pledge to fix America’s broken healthcare system — and while he still had solid Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress.

    Instead, he surrounded himself with a bunch of establishment insiders as advisers, and pledged to “play nice” with the Republicans had already made clear that their #1 goal was to destroy his presidency.

    Consequently, when he started proposing health care reform, he almost immediately ruled out single-payer — along with other key provisions such as having the Federal Government negotiate directly with drug companies for lower prices (something the military and VA already do), or offering a “public option” (such as allowing more Americans to buy in to Medicare).

    What we go instead (ACA) is essentially a tired old Republican idea, i.e. “Romneycare”— a frankenstein-like maze of state and federal “marketplaces” and “exchanges” … offering “gold/silver/bronze,” etc. plans that — when combined with the existing patchwork of Medicare, Medicaid, Employer-paid, “charity,” and “uncompensated” care — has left us with a system that is more confusing, and often more expensive, than ever before.

    And yet, ironically, many Democratic leaders are still genuinely confused about why millions of poor, working- and middle-class Americans failed to show up at the polls to support Democrats in the recent mid-term elections …

  3. Eel
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    This is why rich people with good insurance should live together, like in “Elysium”. It would remove the guesswork.

  4. idea man
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 9:28 am | Permalink

    We should all be tattooed with our annual income information and our insurance plans so that EMTs are sure to treat us accordingly.

  5. Lynne
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 11:56 am | Permalink

    Demetrius, I don’t agree with that. There were too many Democrats who wouldn’t have supported a true single payer system. This was the compromise. It still isn’t too late though. There is another election in two years and if the American people demand a single payer system and vote accordingly, that is what they will get.

    The real problem is that most people who vote have insurance that is very portable and they aren’t bankrupted by medical expenses. I can honestly say that I don’t know a single person who has been in that situation although I have known people who could have been but then were able to negotiate their bill down. This blog entry prompted me to check my own insurance plan because our benefits were reduced this year. If I end up at an out of network hospital, I have to pay $1000 deductible along with a $150 out of network co-pay. Lots of people have plans like this and thus may be less motivated to vote for a single payer plan. I actually understand the economics behind this so I know why a single payer plan divorced from employment would be better but not every does. I don’t know how to convince them although I am working on that. How do you convince the majority of voters with good insurance that things won’t get worse under a single payer plan?

  6. jcp2
    Posted November 13, 2014 at 12:43 pm | Permalink

    Firstly, health insurance linked to your employment is only portable as long as you are not very ill for a long period of time. Health insurance should be de-linked from employment. I had a highly valued office manager that had a serious chronic illness that required a leave of absence from work. Once she reached three months off of work, she was let go, lost her insurance, went on disability, and is now “retired”. That sucks.

    Secondly, what sort of emergency that is not life-threatening needs an ambulance for transport to an emergency room? Sounds more like an urgent care issue to me. A true emergency would be covered by EMTLA regulations, and the patient would be treated regardless of whether the hospital was in network or out of network, and the insurer is bound by law to pay the hospital the full hospital charge if they are out of network. Hospitals go to court and sue the insurance company all the time for this. It’s the only way in the current health care system that we have that hospitals are able to maintain an emergency room to care for emergencies. That being said, a high proportion of our emergency room visits are nor for emergencies in the acute sense. They are patients who are ill or who have been injured who cannot find a physician to take care of them in a timely fashion for their wants, for whatever reason.

    Thirdly, some of the best insurance plans in Southeast Michigan, with regards to wide network coverage and low out of pocket costs, belong to unionized employees and retirees, hardly the rich and powerful. A lot of business owners that may be considered “rich” by many people have plans with high deductibles, high copays, and high monthly premiums because their business has insufficient numbers of employees to spread out the insurance risk for favorable rate negotiations. At one point, Blue Cross Blue Shield, would not give competitive rates for companies with less than 500 employees, so we went with Aetna until we broke that barrier, Aetna had essentially no in network providors or hospitals in Washtenaw County because of their poor reimbursement (U of M and St. John’s opted not to contract with them), so all my routine care was out of network and out of pocket. Great fun calculating the family medical budget annually for tax purposes.

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