Imagine the familiar scenario: You rush into a hospital in chronic pain and ask to see a doctor. The receptionist gets you to fill out the customary paperwork and soon enough, you’re whisked into the back where they run some tests and a physician finally checks you out.
At the end of the examination, he or she tells you that they’re recommending a few more tests be run. After they leave, a representative comes in and tells you that your medical care will likely ping your wallet for an additional $1,000. But don’t worry — the hospital is offering loans in partnership with a well respected bank.
If you weren’t already feeling ill, you’re downright dizzy now, but before you faint, realize that this is currently happening in our health care system. CNNMoney details a case in which a woman was “forcefully” told to apply for a loan through the hospital for an emergency room visit.
Report: Hospitals pressuring patients to apply for loans
Of course, financing plans aren’t a new phenomenon at small-time medical facilities or private practices, but what is new are the tactics many large-scale hospitals are employing to get you to part with your money, in many cases even if you have insurance.
Especially crass is the practice to solicit loan information while a patient is in the ER or even in a medication-induced stupor. Furthermore, patients in this situation will likely pay an inflated price without the benefit of cross-shopping for a better deal.
The whole situation smells like a sick deal for the average patient, according to money expert Clark Howard.
“Now you talk about a complete lack of ethics,” he says. “And I know the hospitals face a terrible, terrible problem with what’s known as ‘uncompensated care,’ where a hospital will treat someone and someone just can’t or doesn’t pay the bill and that’s a reality and problem that we haven’t come up with a workable solution for in the United States.”
Clark says while the system is broken, hospitals “doing these deals with aggressive salespeople from banks coming in when people may be barely conscious saying ‘sign here’ on documents they don’t even know ” is not only wrong, but “uncalled for, unacceptable and atrocious.”
One of the most egregious things about the whole process is that people often have no idea what they’re signing — and the pressure put on a patient is such that they feel that they don’t have time to sift through all the legalese read the important details, which may be in the fine print.
What to know before you sign the dotted line
So here’s what you should do before signing any contract:
- Look or ask for a “cooling off” period. A cooling off period is a span of time where, although you’ve signed the agreement, you can still opt out if you want to. This gives the customer/client time to properly assess the situation and allows them to cut ties with the business if things aren’t as advertised.
- Ask for an explanation or clarification of any words or phrases in the agreement that you don’t understand. Companies have a field day with people who can’t comprehend what they’re signing but are too embarrassed to ask that it be broken down in plain English.