The nation’s largest organization of registered nurses is fighting back against the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, slamming the law for doing nothing to control skyrocketing health care costs.
National Nurses United, a union representing about 185,000 nurses, says that exorbitant hospital charges have become a major factor in driving up overall health care costs, exaggerating a national health care crisis as “increasing numbers of Americans are priced out of access to needed medical care or pushed into financial ruin or bankruptcy.”
New data released by National Nurses United finds that hospital charges jumped 22 percent in 2011 alone.
Though the government earned praise when it recently released what individual hospitals charge Medicare — and what they actually get paid — for the most common diagnoses and treatments, National Nurses United said that does nothing.
“Sure, they released some numbers, but what does that do really?” Charles Idelson, a spokesman for National Nurses United said, noting that Medicare’s released information was for individual medical procedures, not the “totality of charges.”
“Transparency is nice but it’s not enough. One of the biggest holes in PPACA — and there’s a lot — is how little is does to address the issue of cost and what nurses see on a daily basis — that high hospital and health costs are constantly hurting families,” Idelson said.
The nurses' research found what appear to be staggering statistics: U.S. hospitals charge on average $331 dollars for every $100 of their total costs, a 331 percent charge-to-cost ratio. From 2009 to 2011 (the most recent year for which the data is available), hospital charges lunged upward by 16 percent, while hospital costs only increased by 2 percent.
“There is no other word for this than price gouging,” said Deborah Burger, co-president of NNU whose research arm, the Institute of Health and Socio Economic Policy produced the findings based on an analysis of publicly available Medicare Cost Reports.
Burger says the consequences of hospital price gouging for patients and families is “immediate and severe.” High hospital charges get passed along by insurance companies to employers and individuals. And employers either drop health coverage or shift the cost to workers, she said.
“Hospitals should be providers of care, not loan sharks,” Burger said. “But we also know that price gouging is widespread throughout the health care industry, and that is a symbol of what is wrong with our profit-focused health care system, and why we need real reform.”
Idelson said that any diminishment of cost in the last two years is only because the recession hurt so many people’s finances, and caused them to forgo medical treatment because they couldn't afford it.
“Effective reforms would include a crackdown on inflated charges as well as greater public oversight and protection generally," Burger said. "Ultimately, the only long-term solution is still the transformation of our broken healthcare system to a more humane system, such as in expanding and improving Medicare to cover everyone."