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Human rights group criticizes lack of US hospital regulations on debt

A new report says the U.S. hospital system risks violating human rights by pushing millions to take on excessive medical debt.
Human rights group criticizes lack of US hospital regulations on debt
Posted at 1:12 PM, Jun 16, 2023

Human Rights Watch decried the U.S. government for lacking regulations to protect the public from racking up debt for hospital care. 

The new report said the U.S. should "move away from its current, charity-dependent model of hospital services and ensure that health care is affordable to all."

The report cited a Kaiser Family Foundation survey that found 41% of adults had outstanding medical or dental debt. The survey also found that about 1 in 4 adults were past due on some type of medical debt. 

Human Rights Watch singled out privately operated nonprofit hospitals, which represent 60% of all community hospitals. Human Rights Watch notes that privately operated nonprofit hospitals receive tax exemptions in exchange for providing "community benefits."

SEE MORE: Biden administration report urges caution on medical credit cards

"The U.S. heavily relies on these privately operated nonprofit hospitals’ charity care to increase access to health care for patients who cannot pay for hospital services, such as emergency treatment, diagnostic work, and inpatient surgeries," Human Rights Watch said. "But given the high prevalence of hospital-related medical debt in the US, this system is clearly not working."

The group says that there is little oversight and inadequate regulation on these hospitals, which it claims operate like for-profit corporations.

"Like wolves in sheep’s clothing, unscrupulous nonprofit hospitals can hide among their responsible peers, benefiting from their public perception and tax-status as charitable institutions while engaging in extractive and exploitative practices," the report states.

The report recommends creating a universal health care system akin to those in many other high-income countries. 

Although universal health care has long been supported by some lawmakers on the left like Sen. Bernie Sanders, these policies have failed to gain traction among most Republicans and many Democrats. 

Phillip Swagel, director of the Congressional Budget Office, stated to Congress last year that a single-payer health care system modeled on Medicare's fee-for-service program would cost the federal government from $1.5 trillion to $3 trillion by 2030. He said it is unclear whether universal health care would decrease national health expenditures. 

Swagel also noted that the health care system would likely be unable to keep up with increased demand. 

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