Dr. Steve Lantier and I decided years ago that it was not appropriate to talk at length about the extent to which we have been charitable over the years.  We have been charitable, not because we desired any attention for acting in this way, but because it seemed like the right thing at the time.  There are hospitals in Oklahoma, however, (I am thinking of one in Tulsa, in particular), which take out full-page ads in their newspaper to brag about the amount of “charitable” care they have delivered over the years.  Millions and millions of dollars, don’t you know.  This is, of course, an easy claim when you are charging $100 for an aspirin and thousands of dollars for a simple CT scan. 

It is important to understand that while waiving the charity flag with one hand, these same hospitals are fleecing the taxpayers with their uncompensated care scheme (scam) with the other hand.  In other words, these hospitals get paid even when they don’t get paid.  They provide no charity care at all when you think about it.  While the patient may not pay the hospital bill, someone else does, either through this uncompensated care system, or the $100 the next patient pays for their aspirin. 

Ziva Branstetter wrote this past weekend in the Tulsa World about a poor young woman named Lindsay Kline.  You can read the entire article here.  Lindsay developed a tooth abscess and had to spend the night (just one night) in a Tulsa hospital (not sure which one), an experience that resulted in an $18,000 bill.  And the “not for profit” hospital meant to collect.   They ruined her credit and she had to declare bankruptcy.  What is the gist of Ms. Branstetter’s article?  Lindsay should have had insurance!!!  I think Lindsay needed a constable more than she needed insurance.

And before you embrace the propaganda that insurance would have prevented Lindsay’s bankruptcy, remember that while medical bills account for over 60% of bankruptcies, over 70% of these bankruptcies are filed by patients with health insurance 75% to be exact.  This mantra of “get everyone covered with health insurance” without dealing with the mercenary dealings of hospitals is a recipe for….well…..if you guessed more mercenary dealings of hospitals, you go to the head of the class.  Sounds like the mission of TUCA (The Unaffordable Care Act), no?  Even the corporatist Warren Buffet has declared TUCA a disaster as the cost of care should have been addressed first.

Lindsay didn’t need insurance as much as she needed to not get mugged.  Hospitals can’t afford full-page ads to show how charitable they are without mugging people like Lindsay, though.  Keep in mind that Uncle Sam has put his foot down on physicians owning hospitals.  We wouldn’t want these doctors to rip people off, would we?  The charitable operation of hospitals and medical facilities should be trusted only to those disinterested in profit seeking, right?

I hope that if Ms. Kline ever reads this, she will send me an itemized bill from the hospital that robbed her.  I would love to tell her what the actual costs were and what she should have been billed.

G. Keith Smith, M.D.