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Hospital Overcharges: Attorney Can Help Uninsured

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Los Angeles, CAMany people facing outrageous hospital overcharges either throw out their bill or argue with the hospital, refusing to pay any part of unfair and excessive emergency room fees. But these actions can negatively impact their credit and disturb their sleep. An attorney, working on contingency basis, can help-- and particularly to people who are uninsured and have paid little or nothing of an excessive bill.

Attorney Barry Kramer wants to reach out to anyone who believes their hospital charges are grossly unfair, but he can particularly help patients who do not have health insurance and have not paid their hospital bill. Don’t take on the hospital’s collection department alone.

“A lot of my clients were at first hesitant to speak with a lawyer about a bill they haven’t paid,” says Kramer. “It’s like they feel they received something for nothing thus far, so it’s awkward to say, ‘I’ve paid too much,’ when they haven’t paid anything. Part of the problem stems from the fact that the hospital doesn’t have to file a lawsuit over an unpaid bill—they just send it to a collection agency. This action threatens your credit and can do you great harm. And it won’t go away. So you are left in limbo: you are not forced into court and your bill sits at the collection agency.”

So how can an attorney help you when your hospital bill is at the collection agency – unpaid?

Insured Patients
Insured people also have problems with overcharges. They could be facing high-deductibles and co-payments. People with Medicare and Medicaid tend to do best with hospitals regarding payment amounts. Even if the agreements the health insurance carrier negotiates with the hospital leaves to payments too high, it has already been negotiated and settled upon. “”These agreements have already been legally arranged, so I can’t complain on behalf of an insured patient, even though rates are excessive,” says Kramer. “The rates have already been established—like they’re written in stone.”

Uninsured Patients
Uninsured people, however, don’t have established rates. The hospital has a one-sided interpretation of their own contract and that gives an experienced attorney the opportunity to help those patients. Kramer says that hospitals almost never give those signed contracts to patients.

The patient, however, has the absolute right to the signed contract but often the hospital is not forthcoming. Why not?

Kramer always asks his clients to get their signed agreement from the hospital. “It’s hard to fathom why they aren’t readily given to patients. Maybe the hospital doesn’t want the patient to know the price terms of the agreement, or the hospital thinks it isn’t necessary to give the patient a copy of his contract,” he says. “Regardless of the reason, it is almost uniformly their practice not to give the only agreement that they claim authorizes their excessive billing.

“For instance, a husband tries to get his wife’s contract—she is at home recovering from surgery. The hospital tells him that his wife needs to come in and sign off. But the hospital is legally obliged to give out the agreement. I tell my clients to be firm and adamant, and don’t take NO for an answer. They usually get all the paperwork the second time around.”

“A lot of my clients were at first hesitant to speak with a lawyer about a bill they haven’t paid,” says Kramer. “It’s like they feel they received something for nothing thus far, so it’s awkward to say, ‘I’ve paid too much,’ when they haven’t paid anything."

If the hospital has no contract, they have no basis to bill you. Nonetheless, your bill will wind up at the collection agency. “It is hard to sue a hospital for breach of contract based on a patient who hasn’t paid the bill, which may be one reason why patients are hesitant to contact an attorney. This is a tricky and complex issue but, having focused many years on this area of law, I have lots of experience,” says Kramer. “I look for people wronged, and I am dedicated to reduce or eliminate their bill and ultimately want to change an improper billing practice.

“Typically, people without insurance think there’s no need to seek legal help because they don’t have assets or much money. But many individuals are still concerned about their credit rating and don’t want to be hounded. Those are the people that I am best able to help.”

Maybe they’re afraid of ‘waking the sleeping giant’ if a complaint is filed against the hospital. They think, ‘If I hire an attorney obviously the hospital will respond and attack me with this claim that I haven’t even heard about.’ Rather, ‘let sleeping dogs lie’. But people don’t understand that dogs can be dangerous.

In many cases, Kramer has been able to get the hospital to waive its bill entirely even if the hospital bill is in collection. “Once I file an action, I can get better results,” he adds.

“I always work on a contingency basis. I’m not so much concerned about the amount of your overcharges, but it is harder to complain about a bill if you received a substantial up-front discount or financial aid. And it makes sense for me to proceed against a medium sized hospital or larger.”

Attorney Barry Kramer represents people nationwide who have been billed excessive emergency room charges. Typically, uninsured patients are uniform victims of hospital overcharging. And to compound the issue, emergency room costs are increasing.


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