Patients are paying more for hospital stays

Study: Decline in available credit increases strain on consumers

Patients are paying more out-of-pocket to cover key medical expenses, while access to consumer credit that could help pay for treatment has shrunk, according to a report by TransUnion.

TransUnion's health care unit analyzed data from 200 U.S. hospitals for common hospital procedures, such as natural birth deliveries, cesarean sections, and joint replacement surgery. Researchers compared the data with financial information on U.S. residents.

According to the report, the average patient contribution—including copayments, coinsurance, and deductibles—for common hospital procedures increased by 22% last year, from $1,676 per procedure in 2011 to $2,042 at the end of 2012. The average deductible increased from $405 to $1,032 over the same period, while average copays increased from $65 to $117.

At the same time, credit available to the average U.S. consumer remained mostly flat, decreasing slightly from $34,430 to $34,301. At the end of 2011, consumers had $2,050 in credit available for every $100 in health care costs. One year later, available credit was just $1,680 for every $100 in health care costs, the report found.

Moreover, individuals with the riskiest credit profiles saw the largest decline in revolving credit, the report noted.

Official: Patient finances in dire shape

The findings raise concerns that consumers will increasingly struggle to pay for medical care, according to Milton Silva-Craig, president of TransUnion Healthcare.

Silva-Craig expects more hospitals to begin requesting payment before providing medical care. He urges patients to seek out cost information from their hospital and explore payment alternatives, including need-based financial assistance (Carrns, "Bucks," New York Times, 6/13).

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