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Inflated hospital charges leave many crippled with debt

Imagine that you're in a serious car accident and need emergency medical care. After getting treatment the day of the crash, your doctor tells you you'll need surgery to completely recover. After undergoing surgery, you need to go in for a follow-up visit to make sure everything is healing properly. As you're finally starting to feel better, your first medical bill comes in the mail. Depending on your health insurance plan, an ambulance ride and treatment in the emergency department could cost you thousands of dollars -- and this is only your first bill.

The point we're making is one that many Oregon residents are very familiar with. The rising cost of medical care is saddling thousands of Americans with insurmountable debt. The billing system, however, doesn't make much sense, and though hospital officials admit that, they say change is a long way off.

Right now, some hospitals are able to charge patients nearly six times what it costs hospitals to provide the care. While hospital charges have risen by 10 percent every year since 2000, hospital costs have only gone up an average of 6 percent each year. And the excessive costs hit uninsured individuals the hardest. While some have proposed federal regulations for limiting how much hospitals can charge, critics say that, so far, proposals have lacked clarity and may do little to help the problem.

As we wait for changes to be made in the way our health care system works, many Oregon residents are struggling to keep up with medical bills. Fortunately, there are ways to find relief from medical debt. Personal bankruptcy can allow an individual to discharge debt, helping them to get back on their feet.

Source: Bloomberg News, "Uninsured Americans get hit with highest medical bills," March 11, 2013

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