Thursday, August 13, 2009
..... has to be this alliance of arguably the two most-despised sectors of the U.S. economy these days -- banks and health care providers. Lori Swanson, Minnesota's Attorney General has just filed suit against a local chiropractic clinic for fraudulent issuance of health care credit cards.
Her consumer alert memo on this trend among health care providers explains:
Some clinics aggressively promote health care credit cards to make more money. Banks often encourage dentists, medical clinics, chiropractors, cosmetic and eye surgeons, weight loss programs, hearing aid dispensers, and other providers to offer health care credit cards to their patients as a way to make more money for the clinic. When a patient charges services on a health care credit card, the clinic is paid right away by the credit card company, even if the services are to be delivered in the future. Some patients report feeling pressured by their clinics to enroll in health care credit cards to pay for care that they do not need or want or cannot afford.
Patients should remember that clinics have an incentive to aggressively promote these credit cards as a guaranteed way for the clinic to get paid promptly but that the cards may not always be in the patient's best interest. Do not let your clinic pressure you into taking out a credit card you do not want. Do not sign up for anything without asking to read the fine print.
Beware of interest-free promotions. Health care credit cards are now offered by many of the nation's largest lenders, including GE Money Bank, JP Morgan Chase, CitiGroup, and Capital One. Across the country, health care companies like UnitedHealth Group and Humana have also gotten into the mix by offering credit cards.
Many lenders try to entice patients into signing up by offering credit cards that have a zero percent interest rate if the balance is paid off within a promotional period (often 12 or 18 months) and if, during the promotional period, the consumer makes all monthly payments on time. If the balance is not paid off within the promotional period or if the patient misses a monthly payment, however, interest rates can quickly jump to as much as 29.99 percent retroactively. Before being tempted by a zero-interest offer, be absolutely sure that you can pay the balance in full during the interest free period and that you can make all your monthly payments in full and on time. If you can' t, you may end up being responsible to pay off your health care bills at double-digit rates that you cannot afford and may also be responsible for hefty late fees.
Maybe what we really need is some sort of omnibus health and financial system reform bill.