Investigative (Florida, Georgia, New York)
New York Times (NYT)
October 13, 2013
Link to story
Tags: Consumer Protection, Health Care, Seniors
In dentists’ and doctors’ offices, hearing aid centers and pain clinics, American health care is forging a lucrative alliance with American finance. A growing number of health care professionals are urging patients to pay for treatment not covered by their insurance plans with credit cards and lines of credit that can be arranged quickly in the provider’s office. The cards and loans, which were first marketed about a decade ago for cosmetic surgery and other elective procedures, are now proliferating among older Americans, who often face large out-of-pocket expenses for basic care that is not covered by Medicare or private insurance.
The American Medical Association and the American Dental Association have no formal policy on the cards, but some practitioners refuse to use them, saying they threaten to exploit the traditional relationship between provider and patient. Doctors, dentists and others have a financial incentive to recommend the financing because it encourages patients to opt for procedures and products that they might otherwise forgo because they are not covered by insurance. It also ensures that providers are paid upfront — a fact that financial services companies promote in marketing material to providers.
A review by The New York Times of dozens of customer contracts for medical cards and lines of credit, as well as of hundreds of court filings in connection with civil lawsuits brought by state authorities and others, shows how perilous such financial arrangements can be for patients — and how advantageous they can be for health care providers.