When Barbara Retkowski went to a Cape Coral, Florida, health clinic in August to treat a blood condition, she figured the center would bill her insurance company. Instead, it demanded payment upfront.
Earlier in the year, another clinic insisted she pay her entire remaining insurance deductible for the year — more than $1,000 — before the doctor would even see her.
“I was surprised and frustrated,” Retkowski, a 59-year-old retiree, said in an interview. “I had to pull money out of my savings.”
The practice of upfront payment for non-emergency care has been spreading in the U.S. as deductibles rise. Now, the advent of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act is likely to accelerate that trend.
Many of the plans offered through the law’s insurance exchanges have low initial premiums to attract customers, while carrying significant deductibles and other out-of-pocket cost sharing. The second-lowest tier of Obamacare plans in California, for example, carries a $2,000 annual deductible.
Hospitals say they need to charge patients prior to treatment because Americans are increasingly on the hook for more of their own medical costs. And once care is provided, it’s often difficult for hospitals to collect.
“It used to be taboo to look like you were looking for money at a time when you were supposed to be focused on patient care,” David Williams, president of Boston-based consulting firm Health Business Group, said. “It’s not taboo anymore.”