1. Obama administration malingers on hospital bill collecting abuses:
Here’s a compelling story for any reporter who wants to shine light on a failure of basic competence – or maybe it’s backbone – by the Obama administration on an issue that affects millions of middle class and poor Americans and that was supposed to be the president’s number one priority.
In the article about healthcare prices that I wrote last month for TIME, I reported that supposedly non-profit hospitals not only charge ridiculously inflated prices (from a price list called the chargemaster) to people who are uninsured or underinsured, but they also routinely sue and demand that those full prices be paid. It’s a prime reason medical bills are the cause of more than 60% of personal bankruptcies and even more demolished credit ratings across the country.
However, one of the little-noticed provisions of Obamacare, which was passed three years ago this week, requires that non-profit hospitals, as a condition of keeping their tax exempt status, must adhere to rules to be promulgated by the IRS that would, among other things, not allow them to send bill collectors or lawyers after patients except under certain conditions. Those conditions include that the patients first be informed through aggressive outreach efforts of the availability of financial aid for patients unable to afford the bills and, more important, that for patients whose incomes are below certain levels, hospitals can only dun them or sue them for the discounted amounts they usually charge insurance companies, rather than the far higher chargemaster prices.
In theory, the IRS, which is a unit of the Obama Administration’s Treasury Department, could have promulgated those regulations at any time after March 23, 2010, the day Obamacare was signed into law. But the first draft of the rules was not issued until two and a half years later – last summer. And then the American Hospital Association’s lobbyists pushed back, calling the proposed rules “too prescriptive.” (To me, if anything, they seemed not prescriptive enough.) Since then, nothing has happened. No final rules have been published. That means that three years after the Obamacare signing ceremony in the White House there is still no protection from hospital lawyers and bill collectors for the patients least able to pay.
Any reporter who wants a legitimate gotcha story should ask the people drawing salaries at the Tax Exempt Government Entities division of the IRS and at its Chief Counsel’s office, as well as the Office of Tax Policy in the Treasury Department, why it takes more than three years to write rules that would immediately protect millions of Americans from the most blatantly unfair aspect of our healthcare system. Or, next time he has a presidential press conference, why not ask the man who said health care reform was his highest priority?