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Medical Costs Rise From Lingering Patients with Nowhere to Go

A Chicago medical malpractice lawyer knows that the accusation that providing fair access to the justice system is responsible for rising medical costs is simply untrue. Saving money in the healthcare field cannot and should not come from eliminating the right of patients to have juries make decisions in Illinois medical malpractice lawsuits. The reality is that these costs are a product of a wide range of forces, including profit incentives among those who provide the care. Bureaucratic entanglements are also involved, as efficiency problems have long left billions of dollars out the door that otherwise might have been saved.

The New York Times reported this week on one part of the problem. It is a troubling reminder that inefficient care not only costs more, but actually makes the lives of patients worse. The story discusses the hundreds of patients who have been stuck in the state’s hospitals for months (and sometimes years) even though they are well enough to leave and move into other less expensive nursing centers or their own homes.

Why are these patients not discharged? Because they lack sufficient insurance, have no housing, or are illegal immigrants.

One hospital vice president explained how many of those caught in limbo have no family or personal resources. That means they remain in the hospital even though far less expensive care options exist. Hospitals are forced to absorb the costs, while the patients remain forced to live in the hospital, unable to move to alternative locations where their quality of life would be maximized. The hospitals are legally not allowed to discharge the patients so long as they would be moving to a shelter or the street. Therefore, if they can’t be discharged arbitrarily and they have no resources to move into an alternative facility, they remain in the hospital indefinitely.

The troubling situation seems to be most prominent in locations where there are large concentrations of illegal immigrants. As costs of acute care hospitals continue to rise, the cost of each of these languishing patients also rises-draining money from a system already in deep need of financial assistance.

Medicaid will pay for emergency care for these individuals, but it will not pay for long-term care. Yet, at the end of the day all of the money comes from the taxpayer anyway, considering that they are paying for the much more expensive skilled care in hospitals when they would be better served in the less expensive nursing homes or health facilities. In fact, the cheapest option would be to provide basic at-home support services and let the individual live there.

The uniqueness of the situation hit home to our medical malpractice lawyers after reading the story of Yu Kang Fu. When he was 53 years old he was dropped off at the hospital by his boss after he experienced severe headaches. He was eventually admitted to the intensive care unit with a stroke, but medical professionals were able to stabilize him and began preparing for his release within a few days. However, as an illegal immigrant, he was ineligible for health benefits and there was no place that would take him. He had no family member in the country. His family in China would not take him back (nor would the Chinese government), even when the hospitals volunteered to pay for the flight. He was allowed to leave just this year after nearly five years in the facility.

At the end of the day, policymakers need to take a hard look at issues like this one when working to save medical costs. Medical malpractice damage caps may sound popular, but true cost savings are found in eliminating illogical systems like this one and instituting reforms in insurance and other related areas.

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