I've been calling the for-profit health insurance industry "government sanctioned extortion" for a few years now. It wasn't until I read Time magazine's cover story this week, "Bitter Pill: Why Medical Bills are Killing Us" that I realized that the whole medical industrial complex is complicit in the crime! And some of the worst offenders are the so-called "non-profit" hospitals that are raking in billions of dollars in profits and their obscenely paid executives.
I decided to call on my favorite expert on the ills of our health "care" system to talk about it. Wendell Potter, who rose to prominence when his conscience got the better of him and he quit his high-paying job as the VP of Communications for insurance giant Aetna, testified in front of Congress and wrote the sad but true book, Deadly Spin: An Insurance Company Insider Speaks Out on How Corporate PR is Killing Health Care and Deceiving Americans, joined me on my show the other day to discuss the article and how little has changed.
In the article, we learn about the "chargemaster" or the master pricelist from which each hospital compiles the exorbitant bills.
No hospital’s chargemaster prices are consistent with those of any other hospital, nor do they seem to be based on anything objective — like cost — that any hospital executive I spoke with was able to explain. “They were set in cement a long time ago and just keep going up almost automatically,” says one hospital chief financial officer with a shrug.
At Stamford Hospital I got the first of many brush-offs when I asked about the chargemaster rates on Janice S.’s bill. “Those are not our real rates,” protested hospital spokesman Orstad when I asked him to make hospital CEO Brian Grissler available to explain Janice S.’s bill, in particular the blood-test charges. “It’s a list we use internally in certain cases, but most people never pay those prices. I doubt that Brian [Grissler] has even seen the list in years. So I’m not sure why you care.”
Orstad also refused to comment on any of the specifics in Janice S.’s bill, including the seemingly inflated charges for all the lab work. “I’ve told you I don’t think a bill like this is relevant,” he explained. “Very few people actually pay those rates.”
Very few people? Actually, it's only people who pay those rates - the uninsured and under-insured. The big insurance companies certainly don't. They pay negotiated, much lower rates. Although some negotiate down from the chargemaster rate, most prefer to negotiate up from the Medicare rate.