Pressure to Charge Medical Bills

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James Wilkerson, a medical patient says he started getting calls several times a week after being hospitalized last year. He'd been rushed to the emergency room near death from complications from treatment for lymphoma.

The bill for his four-day stay: $28,000.

James says, "I finally got one call saying they were garnishing my wife's wages and taking away my home."

Wilkerson says the hospital pressured him to settle the bill with a $13,000 line of credit on one of his credit cards.

"Through a search of my credit, they found a closed, non-used, zero balance account that I didn't even know I had and forced me to use it on a cash-advanced basis," said Wilkerson.

But Consumer Reports says when patients use a credit card to pay for medical expenses, they lose their ability to negotiate lower payments or a longer payment schedule. That puts people at a serious disadvantage."

Consumer Reports also says hospitals aren't the only ones pushing patients to "charge it."

"CapitolOne, JP Morgan Chase, and GE Money have all come out with "medical" credit cards or loans. They promote them to doctors, who in turn offer them to patients," said Consumer Reports Andrea Rock.

One card offers "attractive rates on cosmetic procedures."

Another says it helps the hospital increase it's patients and sales by 25%.

But, Consumer Reports says interest rates on the cards can jump up very high. Doctors get paid right away, but consumers can end up on the losing end.

James Wilkerson is one now struggling with mounting debt. Unable to continue making the minimum $260 monthly payments, the interest rate on his credit card has jumped to 29.99%.

The hospital where James Wilkerson was treated says it respectfully disagrees with his allegations. It says it reached a deeply discounted and mutually acceptable payment plan for his care. The hospital also noted it does help patients get charity care.

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