Friday, November 6, 2009

FLOYD COUNTY: The Uninsured and Working Poor are being Garnished for Inflated Health Care Bills

The Uninsured and Working Poor are being Garnished for Inflated Health Care Bills
Within the last month I have had four women come into our W.O.R.T.H. clinic asking for help because of medical bills. Three were single mothers employed at close to minimum wage jobs. All three had children in the home and all three were being garnished because of medical bills they incurred at the *** Emergency Room or Urgent Care.
      I haven’t reviewed any of the bills, but here are the stories they told me. One had taken her teen daughter to the E.R., possibly for a headache, she didn’t remember. All she remembered is the $5,000 hospital bill she received. She also remembered that no one at any time counseled her about the indigent care trust fund (ICTF) program and she didn’t see any signs about the program. She couldn’t pay the bills and her check is now being garnished. Because of the garnishments, her power was already turned off. Her water, gas and cable had been turned off and her car had been repossessed. Her employer was still trying to help her with transportation to work. Her teen daughter had left the home in disgust that her mother could not provide these basic essentials. The mother said, “Ms. Marilyn, I feel like I’m one foot away from a cardboard box.”
      Another mother just received her garnishment notice. She went to the E.R. when she had insurance so she wasn’t worried about the bills, until she got a bill for $1,900. Her insurance didn’t pay any part of the bill because of one of the many loopholes in her coverage. She has three young children in the home and doesn’t think she will be able to pay next month’s rent.
      Yesterday, I had a woman who had a history of complicated urinary tract infections. She worried when her symptoms returned, so she went to the E.R. She has been unemployed for more than a year and she is also caring for several grandchildren through temporary DFCS custody. She received a bill for $2,400 for a workup of a urinary tract infection, which was negative. She knew about the ICTF program because she used to work at this same hospital. She applied for the program and was denied. She was not told she had a right to appeal that decision. She asked for a reasonable payment plan and that was denied. She was not offered a negotiated fee (and didn't know to ask). She was however offered a credit card plan/loan to help pay the bills; she was smart enough to decline that. She said she may not even try to pay the bill because they wouldn’t accept a reasonable payment plan and she has no income to garnish.
      I gave all of these women information about the Georgia Legal Services programs (GLSP). GLSP may not be able to assist those who are already being garnished, but they may be able to provide information and assistance to those who are saddled with excessive medical bills and have not yet been garnished.
      Next Sunday, November 8th, the W.O.R.T.H. clinic will sponsor a film called “Do No Harm” at 3 p.m. in the Oostanaula Room at the Sara Hightower library. This film is about problems in obtaining affordable health care at non-profit hospitals in Georgia. We will have information available regarding affordable health care and legal resources available in Floyd County. We will also have information about public benefits programs and patient’s rights and responsibilities.
If you have received a hospital bill that seems excessive or you have been garnished by a non-profit hospital, we would like to see your hospital bill. Please bring your health care questions and your stories about health care and join us next Sunday.

Marilyn Ringstaff,
(706) 232-3408 (Letter submitted to the Rome News-Tribune 11/1/09).

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