Doctors push medical credit cards, spark investigations
Imagine this unsettling scene. You lie in the emergency room of a hospital. After being hit by a drunk driver, you are critically injured. Barely conscious and in tremendous pain, you find out that your insurance company will cover only some of the costs of your vital surgery. Realizing the gap of coverage and your inability to pay for it, your doctor pulls out a credit card application and says, “Don’t worry. We offer this great medical credit card that is interest free. Just sign here on the dotted line, and we’ll get you put back together in no time.” As you sign the agreement, your doctor smiles, elated that he gets some payment upfront and that he gets a kickback from the creditor.
This scenario dramatizes a growing problem: doctors pushing medical credit cards. In fact, the number of complaints about doctors promoting medical credit cards has risen in recent months. Some of the complaints are so outrageous that they have sparked the ire of New York Attorney General Andrew M. Cuomo, who recently announced an investigation into the health-care lending industry. Other state attorneys are pursuing rogue doctors who take advantage of patients, many of which are not fully aware of the credit card terms.
Two trends have increased demand for medical credit cards: lower pay for doctors and insurance coverage gaps for patients.
The glamour of being a doctor just isn’t what it used to be. Doctors don’t make as much money as they did ten years ago. Furthermore, their expenses continue to increase at record rates. Insurance to protect against medical malpractice is increasingly expensive. And to make matters worse, insurance companies and the government are slow to reimburse doctors for services. Consequently, doctors are being forced to explore other options to squeeze a profit or to make a living. For many desperate doctors, medical credit cards are a means to accomplish at least better cash flow or solvency.
Likewise, patients are facing increased difficulties in paying for medical procedures in full. Insurance companies are covering less and charging more for premiums and deductibles.
Despite these unfortunate trends, we all have a cardinal responsibility to protect the interests of patients, especially those in vulnerable situations. When we reach the point where doctors become credit card pushers or sales representatives for banks in high pressure situations—and it seems as though we have—the integrity of our healthcare system is grossly compromised. Medical credit card pitches by doctors or anyone else for that matter have no place in situations where patients cannot make an informed and educated decision about the terms.
Read more about this as reported by The Washington Post.