Local hospitals accused of overcharging patients

Study by 'Health Affairs' ranks 2 area hospitals among worst for hiking rates

ORANGE PARK, Fla. – Two hospitals in our area are on a list of the top 50 hospitals in the country for marking up prices for some patients.

A study by the journal Health Affairs ranked Orange Park Medical Center eighth on the list when it comes to the ratio of hospital costs to patient bills.

Gainesville North Florida Regional Medical Center came in at 28th on the list.

The report said Orange Park Medical Center raises rates more than 11 times what it costs the the hospital for services. 

Stephania White and her family live near Orange Park Medical Center, and they've had to go to the emergency room several times over the years. She said even though they have insurance, they've gotten some painful bills.

"When I got my bill at home it was a little up there," White said.

She said she had no idea they were going to charge her that much.

RELATED: Wolfson Children's Hospital ranked one of best 50 in nation

She's not alone. A newly released study from Health Affairs ranked the Clay County hospital among the worst in the country for marking up prices. Gainesville's North Florida Regional Medical Center made the list for hiking prices nearly 10-fold.

Most people with insurance don't have to pay the higher prices. But patients without insurance, out-of-network patients, and patients filing workers compensation claims could be hit with the higher price tag.

Dr. Carolyn McClanahan, a physician and financial planner for Life Planning Partners, said things need to change.

"There are no regulations in Florida that limit what a hospital can charge, so they will send you bills out the Yin Yang, and you won't be able to pay those bills, which eventually get sent to collections, and you get basically forced into medical bankruptcy," McClanahan said. "(If) a hospital is charging 11 times what it actually costs for them to provide the care, that is robbery."

McClanahan said the uninsured and those with true emergencies take the biggest hit.

"You really don't have much choice," McClanahan said. "If an ambulance comes to pick you up because you're having a heart attack, they are required to take you to the closest hospital that can stabilize you."

Health Corporation of America owns both of the local hospitals that are on the list. They sent News4Jax a statement:

"The amount patients pay for hospital services has more to do with the type of coverage they have than prices listed in the chargemaster. As the study notes, government programs like Medicare and Medicaid determine how much they reimburse hospitals, and insurance plans negotiate rates. Uninsured patients are eligible for free care through our charity care program or they receive our uninsured discounts, which are similar to the discounts a private insurance plan gets. In addition, we were one of the first hospitals to make detailed pricing information publicly available on our website."

White understands life is expensive, but she wants hospitals to be fair. She's even driven further to go to another hospital because of the charges.

McClanahan said if a patient has a choice -- like an elective surgery -- it pays to shop around. If patients don't and it's an emergency, she said ask the hospitals to negotiate a lower price or for information on a patient assistance program. She said people should petition their lawmakers to regulate the industry.