Archives for April 2012

Another reason for Health Insurance Reform

It is no secret that the current Health Insurance system in America is not working. Whether you agree or disagree with the tenets of the Affordable Care Act that is now in front of the US Supreme Court, nobody can argue that the current health care system isn’t broke. It is.

Here is another example of why we need reform – a report from the News & Observer that non-profit hospitals which are supposed to be providing “charity care” to the poor, aren’t.

Charity care is health care that is provided to poor patients who lack health insurance. In return for their non-profit status, the hospitals are expected to write off the bills of patients who lack insurance and are financially needy. However, nearly 2 out of every 3 patients that would otherwise qualify for charity care are not even informed that is exists.

And when charity care is offered, it is often in the form of promissory notes with steep consequences if the patient fails to pay on time. In this report, the patient profiled was offered a promissory note in which 1/2 of her $5,000 debt would be forgiven if she made payments on time and paid off the other half of the balance. If she failed to pay, the entire balance would immediately become due, along with collection costs and legal fees. Where I’m from, those unconscionable contracts are illegal forms of “usury” agreements. The patient in the article refused to sign the agreement and is still being hounded by collections agencies.

It is my hope that articles like this will draw attention to these “non-profit” hospitals, such as Person Memorial Hospital in Roxboro, so that the state can take a closer look at their non-profit status.

Additionally, in my opinion, this is just another glaring example of why we need an individual mandate. If this patient had health insurance, all of a sudden she does not have a huge medical bill looming that she cannot afford to pay. Additionally, the hospitals will save money on collection efforts and unpaid medical bills, which are ultimately passed on to those of us that DO have health insurance.

Finally, the individual mandate would eliminate shady businesses such as AccessOne, a credit card company that offers interest free options to pay off medical bills. However, when payments are missed, rates will rise sharply. Interestingly, this company was started by a doctor who wanted to solve the problem of patients who can’t pay their medical bills.


Infant Tylenol allegedly kills 3 month old

As an expectant father for the second time (as of writing this post, my wife is just over 38 weeks pregnant with our second child), my wife and I are increasingly sensitive to the risks associated with over the counter medication for our children, especially a newborn. According to the Chicago Tribune, we are right to be nervous.  In April 2010, a 3-month-old infant died after taking infant-formula liquid Tylenol. It seems that some of the drugs had been contaminated with bacteria.

This is a sad story, and I can honestly say that my wife and I have used liquid medicine for our first born on many occasions – and he is now a happy and healthy 2 year old. However, what I take away from this is that it is important that we as parents think twice before we make a decision about what we put into our children’s small bodies. Newborns especially do not have the ability to fight off bacteria as an older child or adult does. This is true for not only medication, but vaccines and foods as well.

Principal shot on way to work suffered a compensable injury

On April 9, 2009, James Hunt, a principal at Fairmount Middle School in Lumberton, was shot on his way to work. Earlier this month, the Court of Appeals affirmed a decision determining that Mr. Hunt suffered an injury that arose out of and was within the scope of his employment. (A full copy of the opinion can be found here).

The central issue in this case was something called the “coming and going rule”. Generally speaking, if you are in some type of accident while driving to or from work, it is not a compensable “injury by accident”, the standard required to have a compensable workers compensation injury in North Carolina. However, there are exceptions to this rule, and it appears that the Court of Appeals has carved out another exception in this case.

The Court of Appeals looked at several things in coming to this conclusion. First, evidence was presented to suggest that the shooting was related to Mr. Hunt’s anti-gang activities at the school. Second, the Court of Appeals found evidence that Mr. Hunt was on his cell phone with a school staff member at the time of the shooting. In addition, the phone he was using was paid for by the school district.

Finally, the Court of Appeals looked to the exceptions to the coming and going rule, one of which is called the “contractual duty” exception. Under this exception, if the employer provides transportation or allowances to cover the cost of transportation, than an exception applies. Because Mr. Hunt was provided a travel allowance, then this exception applied.

I find this to be an extremely interesting case that shows just how complicated the workers compensation laws in this state can be. Very few cases are so black and white that they are either compensable or not. There are many shades of gray – and the facts of these cases are all too important.