Special, easy-to-get medical credit cards seduce providers, desperate patients

About Andrew Van Dam

Andrew Van Dam of The Wall Street Journal previously worked at the AHCJ offices while earning his master’s degree at the Missouri School of Journalism.

The (Bergen County) Record‘s Lindy Washburn reports on health care professionals who offer specialized credit cards which can cover certain health costs and can be acquired on site, often in the time it takes to go from diagnosis to emergency procedure. Washburn writes that many providers prefer these cards and it’s easy to see why.

The health care provider receives payment in full when the bank gives its “instant approval” to the patient’s credit application — even for care and services that would normally be billed over weeks or months. That has left patients thousands of dollars in debt — and paying interest rates of 24 percent or more — for care they didn’t receive or even agree to.

So, while some providers love the instant payments, Washburn writes, “state officials are investigating whether medical professionals are violating New Jersey’s consumer fraud law amid allegations that some health care providers have abused these credit sales.”

Among the complaints: Doctors, dentists and others pressure patients to “sign on the dotted line” when they’re vulnerable or in pain; they recommend more costly treatments than necessary, knowing the lending company will pay; and they fail to complete the promised treatment once the money is in hand.

In her CJR post on Washburn’s story, Trudy Lieberman, AHCJ’s immediate past president, writes that such arrangements are likely to become even more popular as co-pays and deductibles rise, and thus urges reporters to dig deeper into “what rights and protections consumers have in this brave new world of health credit cards.”

What I wanted to know is where are the protections of the federal Fair Credit Billing Act. Do they apply? How? What can someone do if they are pressured and treatments are not done?

And if there are not enough protections in place, should there be?

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