Op-ed | Hospital billing practices wreak havoc on consumer costs, especially in underserved areas

Photo Credit: Jessica Hannah

It’s time our federal and state elected officials open their eyes to monopolistic hospital systems and the dishonest way in which they are billing New Yorkers. Through my non-profit organization Silent Cry, Inc., I have dedicated my life to helping vulnerable members of our community overcome systemic disparities and trauma. Undermining this work are corporate hospital systems’ predatory billing practices that wreak havoc on healthcare costs for consumers.

Hospital systems know that services provided in a hospital setting cost more than the same exact services provided in a regular doctor’s office. Through a practice called dishonest billing, hospitals can secretly reclassify a doctor’s office it owns as a hospital-setting in order to charge patients more money for routine services. Not only is this practice highly deceptive, but it discourages individuals – including those in communities ravaged by mass incarceration, gun violence, and trauma – from seeking the basic care and mental health services they critically need.

I was born to an incarcerated mother, faced an unstable childhood, and found myself behind bars by the age of 17. As a person who suffers from the remnants of mass incarceration – and who works with these individuals and their families every day – there is no question that individuals in communities with high rates of crime, violence, and incarceration, suffer serious mental health traumas that require access to quality, affordable treatment.

Unfortunately, large hospital systems continue to buy up doctor’s offices and make our healthcare system less affordable. It is becoming more and more difficult for my organization to help those we serve access the care they need.

According to a recent study by Empire Center, the most recent federal data puts New York’s hospital spending at 43 percent higher than the national average. Allowing hospital systems to increase prices and charge facility fees for services provided in non-hospital settings means patients receiving the same care from their same doctor at the same location can now be charged up to 14 percent more if their doctor is employed by a hospital system. This is unacceptable.

We frequently hear about the harm these practices have on consumers and our small business owners. It’s time we also recognize the disparate impact being felt by those in underserved communities, where encouraging individuals to seek care is already an uphill battle. They should not have to worry that the institutions intended to care for them are, in fact, hurting them.

Hospitals are more interested in boosting their profit margins, than increasing the quality of care provided to our community. Dishonest billing is exploitative and comes at the expense of patients experiencing trauma and pain that the hospitals claim to serve. As an advocate for healing trauma-inflicted families and communities, I urge our elected officials to put an end to these dishonest billing practices.

Shawanna Vaughn is the founder and director of Silent Cry Inc., a New York based non-profit organization that takes a holistic approach to caring for families and communities ravaged by mass incarceration, gun violence, and trauma.