Opinion Columns & Blogs

Hospital rates charged at the doctor’s office

One of the chief arguments for making health insurance, and therefore health care, accessible to more Americans is so that routine treatment can be obtained in the doctor’s office rather than in the more specialized, more costly emergency room.

It’s good for the patient, good for the insurer and good for a society that desperately needs to reduce health care costs.

But hospitals have turned that notion on its head by seeking hospital-size reimbursements for care delivered in doctor’s offices. How can that be?

It turns out that, under Medicare rules, certain freestanding clinics can be considered hospital-based facilities, letting clinics charge inpatient-type fees for outpatient-type care. Because the billing practice is permitted by the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services, the hospital in question is not the only health care provider taking advantage. The news story reported that many other hospitals do the same.

This is unconscionable and should be material for a congressional investigation. What other gaping loopholes in federal regulations must be closed?

It’s the kind of billing practice that breeds consumer cynicism about health care providers and the kind of lax oversight by government that shows no one is minding the store.