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Unpaid hospital bills piling up

A hospital patient is wheeled into the operating room.

TEXT OF STORY

Doug Krizner: Yesterday Florida-based hospital chain Health Management Associates reported an 85 percent drop in profit. The company's being hurt by patients who haven't paid their bills. And it's a problem other hospitals are facing. Ashley Milne-Tyte reports.


Ashley Milne-Tyte: The number of patients who aren't paying up is rising.

Carmela Coyle is with the American Hospital Association.

Carmela Coyle: About a quarter of all of the nation's hospitals are operating in the red — that is, they're losing money every day caring for patients.

In part, she says, because the numbers of uninsured and under-insured are increasing, and those patients can't afford their treatment.

Frank Morgan is a health-care analyst with Jefferies and Company. He says hospitals are used to dealing with big payers, like Medicare or HMOs, but individuals require a different approach.

Frank Morgan: Making people aware of their bill, and hopefully giving them a bill that there's a chance that they can pay, and then collecting as much of that bill and setting up a payment plan at the time of discharge.

Morgan says hospitals need to develop efficient billing systems if they're going to improve their finances. But underpayment by the uninsured will remain a chronic problem.

I'm Ashley Milne-Tyte for Marketplace.

About the author

Ashley Milne-Tyte is the host of a podcast about women in the workplace called The Broad Experience.

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