By Ann Settgast, M.D.
The Star Tribune (Minn.), April 29, 2012
While the behavior of Accretive employees reported in the April 25 article “Attorney general: Fairview put squeeze on patients” is appalling, it should hardly surprise us. As stated, Minnesota hospitals write off hundreds of millions of dollars in uncompensated health care each year. I applaud the AG for highlighting the shameful practice of harassing sick people for money they don’t have, but I implore readers to recognize that this situation simply underscores the giant health care mess we are in, and there is no end in sight.
The need for our hospitals to provide uncompensated care to uninsured and underinsured Minnesotans will continue to grow if we do not fundamentally change our system. Assuming the Affordable Care Act is fully implemented, more than 250,000 Minnesotans will remain uninsured, while hundreds of thousands more will rely on skimpy insurance that does not properly protect them from serious financial strain if they fall ill.
As a practicing physician representing more than 900 Minnesota physicians and medical students in our chapter of Physicians for a National Health Program, I continue to find the injustice of our nonsystem shocking. But I do not despair, because there is a solution. Under a unified single-payer system, hospitals would reliably receive the compensation they deserve for the valuable work they do, and patients would seek care when they need it without being subjected to humiliating harassment. Let’s do the right thing and change our system for real.
Dr. Ann Settgast resides in Minneapolis.