On July 16, House Energy and Commerce Committee Chairman Billy Tauzin (R-LA) and Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Chairman James Greenwood (R-PA) sent letters
to 20 hospitals and hospital systems. As reported in the July 17 Wall Street Journal
(requires subscription), the investigation is into "hospital billing practices that often require uninsured patients to pay rates that far exceed what other payers, including the government and HMOs, are charged. . . . The committee also asked the hospitals to disclose their charity-care practices and how they go about identifying financially needy patients who may need help." Assuming the hospitals are all forthcoming about this massive request for data, it promises to be a fascinating proceeding. As the WSJ article puts it: "At the heart of the congressional investigation is the thorny issue of 'charges,' which are the retail prices that hospitals list for their services. According to the letter, these rates are 'often inflated far beyond [the hospitals'] actual costs and reasonable profit.' Some payers are able to negotiate discounts and pay far less, but 'individual uninsured patients are expected to pay this full, undiscounted "sticker" price,' the congressional letter said. Added [a committee spokesperson]: 'In some cases, it appears that the very people who can least afford it are paying the full sticker price for hospital services.'" I sure hope we see a report coming out of all this.