This OpEd was posted in the Washington Post on March 28, 2023. View the Washington Post page.

The March 21 Health & Science article “Many Americans — especially those below U.S. poverty level — are buried in hospital bills” missed a major reason that medical debt has increased in our country: the rise of high-deductible and skinny insurance plans that result in larger out-of-pocket expenses for consumers.

The last thing that hospitals want is for their patients to face financial barriers. That’s why hospitals go to great lengths to help patients understand their health coverage and financial obligations for care, which is based, in large part, on their insurance.

The American Hospital Association has been identifying and promoting best practices in patient billing for decades. We updated our voluntary patient billing guidance in 2020 to better reflect a changing health-care system in which patients are increasingly being asked to shoulder more of the cost of their care through insurance co-payments and deductibles. Our guidelines include assisting patients who cannot pay for the care they receive and protecting patients from certain debt collection practices. Most hospitals provide free care for patients with the most limited means.

In the past three years, hospitals and health systems have cared for more than 6 million coronavirus patients. As the pandemic reinforced, we are often the front line in a crisis because our doors are always open to anyone who needs care, regardless of ability to pay. Hospitals of all types have provided almost $745 billion in care since 2000 for which they received no payment. Hospitals do more than any other part of the health-care field to support patients and communities in need.

Rick Pollack, Chicago

The writer is president and chief executive of the American Hospital Association.

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