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Medical bills No. 1 reason why consumers go bankrupt

Edythe Jensen’s article “Pricing Transparency — Arizona joins national crusade for medical cost transparency” has implications far beyond price shopping or public disclosure.

Perhaps Arizona’s HB2045 will best benefit consumers by helping them to avoid financial insolvency from industries that generously profit off practicing and litigating. When medical costs are satiated to satisfy industries rather than making health care available and affordable to anyone regardless of their ability to pay, we all lose in the end socially and economically.

As Americans, we have been taught to respect and trust professionals because they are highly educated, certified and licensed to assure us of their competency.

Unfortunately not all professionals are held to the same standards of competency or suffer the same consequences when they fail to find, fix or provide something.

So when a medical professional

orders diagnostic tests or procedures

that don’t find the source of the symptoms, should they be compensated the same as if they found the cause? Or should they be compensated at a lower rate so that patients’ out-of-pocket charges are minimal as an incentive to use less expensive diagnostic means in case they find nothing.

Otherwise, these patients may be burdened with excessive costs, which may cause financial insolvency or lead to bankruptcy — to the point that they can’t afford follow-up care, further medical care, pay for their housing or buy food, etc. After all, medical bills are the No. 1 reason why consumers go bankrupt, even when a diagnosis or cure isn’t accomplished.

Unfortunately, for too long the medical industry has denied “consent” through a lack of open transparency to its customers until it has been too late to opt out and return to the medical professional to seek a more affordable solution before services have been provided.

As consumers, we are expected according to the courts to know the costs that we will be obligated to pay when we hire anyone to provide us a service or product. Consequently, would you buy a home, auto or anything else without knowing the costs? So why should medical services be any different? They shouldn’t. Because when more transparency is provided, medical professionals know it would reduce their profits, especially when consumers opt out of services, seek more affordable alternatives or not seek medical care at all. That’s why this legislation is so important for consumers and long overdue.

Finally, passing HB2045 was a great first step toward medical reform, which helps protect consumers from becoming financially insolvent or bankrupt. However, life is not without risks. Medical professionals can’t perform to the best of their abilities and talents or meet their Hippocratic Oath if others are demanding justification or second-guessing their every act, with the threat of financial penalties or the loss of license.

Consequently the next step needs to be medical tort reform, since many medical costs are the result of practicing defensive medicine instead of being the medical practitioner’s best judgment. Lay people can’t stand before a jury and argue what can or should have been done because they aren’t licensed to practice medicine and neither are attorneys. So until the state puts limits on the members of the judiciary from second-guessing practitioners’ judgment and limiting their involvement, the tail will continue to control the head.

Ed Fischer lives in San Tan Valley.

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