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Will Affordable Care Act help reduce medical bankruptcies?

We've written before about medical debt -- it's the leading cause of bankruptcy in the United States. An aspect of President Obama's Affordable Care Act is meant to require the majority of hospitals to charge people without insurance no more than the amounts paid by people with insurance. The purpose of the measure is to reduce the number of medical bankruptcies and protect people who are financially vulnerable.

But there are signs that next year's expansion of coverage under the Affordable Care Act may not do enough to protect patients. Let us look at why patients in Ohio and throughout the country could still find themselves with insurmountable medical debt.

First, the Affordable Care Act does not yet offer a clear way of determining which uninsured patients should qualify for financial assistance. There is also a lack of clarity as to how much of a discount these patients should receive. By contrast, a state law in California does address these matters.

Second, for-profit medical institutions are exempted from giving discounts to uninsured patients. Since about 40 percent of local hospitals are for-profit, they are exempted. Colorado is one state that has taken legal measures not to exempt for-profit hospitals.

Thirdly, the IRS has not yet set out the rules for how medical institutions should limit their billing. In response, the Obama administration said that hospitals are legally obliged to comply with fair pricing, and that the IRS is still working on compliance measures.

In short, the current language of the law leaves up to hospitals the job of deciding who qualifies for lower medical bills, and the full expansion of the Affordable Care Act isn't expected to immediately lead to everyone having health insurance.

Akron-area residents with heavy medical debt should be aware of their relief options. This kind of debt accumulates for reasons beyond your control, but there may be legal options for achieving a brighter future.

Source: The Columbus Dispatch, "Law to limit hospital prices showing little effect so far," Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, June 24, 2013

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