Uninsured, overcharged

CHICAGO – The Advocate hospital chain is the leading private provider of hospital services to the uninsured who live in Chicago and its Cook County suburbs. It also has the highest charges of any hospital group and overcharges the uninsured more than any other health care system in Cook County, according to “Uninsured and Overcharged,” a recent study by the Hospital Accountability Project of the Service Employees Union (SEIU).

In 2001 Advocate provided inpatient care to some 7,200 Cook County residents, only slightly less than the 7,300 patients served by the area’s 17 other private hospitals. According to SEIU, Advocate HealthCare charged the average uninsured patient $13,854 in 2001, higher than any other group and 30 percent higher than the next largest chain. “It is hard to imagine a health care policy that is more irrational, morally upside down and fundamentally wrong than the discriminatory pricing of health care,” Joseph Geevarghese, who wrote the report, told a Health Care Justice Town Hall Meeting on June 14. He said the practice is a deliberate strategy of “charging the most to those who have the least at a moment in their lives when they are the most vulnerable.”

Other speakers included Tim Leahy, secretary-treasurer of the Chicago Federation of Labor; Quentin Young, national coordinator, Physicians for a National Health Program; and Tom Balanoff, president of the SEIU Illinois State Council. Cliff Kelly, a well-know, African American radio personality, was emcee.

Following the meeting, participants picketed Advocate’s Illinois Masonic Hospital.

Jeniffer Farfan told how she was charged with more than $15,000 for one night in the hospital after being run over by a hit-and-run driver. “There was no surgery, no broken bones, just a one-night stay. If I had health insurance, with the discount the insurance company would have gotten, the bill would have been about $4,700,” she said, adding that so far Advocate has refused to make any adjustment in her bill.

Luis Martinez’s wife spent three days in the hospital and Martinez said he confidently expected his insurance company to pay the $14,611 bill. “After all we held a policy issued by a subsidiary of Advocate. The hospital refused to make any adjustment or payment arrangements. When I filled out an application for charity care, it was refused.”

Martinez’s story eventually made the pages of the Chicago Tribune. Three days later, Advocate’s lawyer called, saying they wanted the case to go away and reduced the amount owed by 80 percent. “But not everyone is so fortunate,” Martinez said.

Farfan and Martinez were among several victims who were denied entrance to the hospital when they attempted to deliver a letter to Advocate officials demanding they stop discriminatory pricing. “We didn’t make it this time,” Balanoff said. “But we will win. Our slogan, ‘One size fits all’ will win the day.”

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