Drawing from recent nationwide campaigns to make healthcare more affordable for the uninsured, the Service Employees International Union charged in a report released last week that Chicago-area hospitals discriminate when pricing healthcare services for the uninsured.
The union used the study to push for state legislation that would limit the amount hospitals would be allowed to bill the uninsured.
"Our main goal is to highlight a fundamental contradiction in healthcare," said Joseph Geevarghese, director of the SEIU's hospital accountability project. "Those who have the least are expected to pay the most for the exact same treatment."
The SEIU, which studied 57 hospitals in Cook County, found that the hospitals had an average case-mix adjusted gross charge of $16,319 per discharged patient after taking into account differences in the hospital resources patients needed.
Advocate Health Care, which operates six hospitals in the county, had the highest average charges of $13,854, approximately $8,000 more than the $5,800 a patient would pay with typical insurance discounts, according to the study. Advocate spokesman Edward Domansky said the report does not take into account Advocate's efforts to work with patients who are uninsured. "We may bill them at full charge, but Advocate is more than willing to work with patients who are uninsured or face financial challenges," he said.
Geevarghese is calling for stronger hospital reporting requirements in Illinois and an end to discriminatory pricing.
The SEIU also is pushing for state legislation, the Discriminatory Pricing Reform Act, which calls for hospitals to provide healthcare services at cost for patients who make less than 300% of the poverty level. The bill died in a state Senate committee, but Geevarghese plans to introduce the same legislation next year. "We plan to organize and move this into the next legislative session," he said.
The Illinois Hospital Association, which represents more than 200 hospitals and health systems, said it opposed the initial bill because it focused on making hospitals charge less instead of working on lowering the number of uninsured patients.