The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Your money or your life

Jul 14, 2008

Some of the biggest financial companies in the country have a new side line: General Electric, U.S. Bancorp, Capital One and Citigroup are acting like bill collectors for big hospital chains.

They pay the hospital a portion of the patient’s medical bill, and then go after the patient for the total bill, adding on high interest rates for those who can’t pay right away. Or they issue medical credit cards to patients without enough insurance – and then collect the high rates credit cards charge.

U.S. Bank, a U.S. Bancorp unit, finances about two million dollars in medical debt each month and charges most patients annual interest of 13.5%, up to 24% on late bills. GE offers a 0% introductory rate on “medical credit cards” that balloons up to a 27% annual rate for those who miss a payment.

Previously, many hospitals forgave portions of debts to some patients, especially low-income ones. It was how they justified their existence.

But as the medical care industry has transformed itself into an almost totally for-profit enterprise, concern for the patient is a luxury it doesn’t want to afford. Health care, in this most capitalist of capitalist countries, is a privilege – but only if you can pay.