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Nurses Charge Hospital Giant Censors Public Right to Know About Price Gouging As Billboards Pulled

National Nurses United Press Release, 5/16/14

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The nation’s largest organization of nurses today accused corporate hospital giant Community Health Systems (CHS) with suppressing free speech and censoring patients’ right to know about its pricing practices by pressuring a billboard company to pull down billboards warning the public about high charges at CHS hospitals.

In response to data showing CHS hospitals set some of the highest charges over their costs of all U.S. hospitals – and then aggressively pursue many patients who are subject to financial ruin or skip needed medical care because of those high prices – NNU this month began a campaign with billboards near CHS-operated hospitals intended to alert the public to those practices.

But, after billboards began appearing in Tennessee and Mississippi, the boards were removed, in part sources told NNU, because of “complaints.” NNU asserts that the complaints came from the CHS corporate office or from its affiliated hospitals.

CHS cancelled billboard

The billboard near the CHS-operated Biloxi Regional Medical Center in Biloxi, MS., for example, asks “Why Do Biloxi Regional Executives Set Prices at 6.7 Times Costs? Don’t Let Biloxi Regional Medical Center Bankrupt You or Your Health.”

“CHS hospitals have a disturbing record of setting very high charges for medical care at their hospitals which has a particularly painful impact on self-payers, those who do not have private or public insurance,” said NNU Co-President Jean Ross, RN. “Nurses across the U.S. see the effects of such pricing practices, with patients struggling with medical bills, facing financial ruin, or not getting the timely medical care they need.”

NNU has been collecting data on hospital charges for the past decade, with the latest NNU information released this past January citing information that the hospitals themselves report to Medicare. Six of the most expensive hospitals in the U.S. are part of CHS or a chain it acquired earlier this year Health Management Associates.

In the case of Biloxi Regional, the hospital sets its charges at $674 for every $100 of its total costs, making it the sixth priciest hospital in Mississippi. Nine of the 10 most expensive hospitals in Mississippi are affiliated with either CHS or HMA.

Further, NNU has noted that CHS has filed hundreds, perhaps thousands, of lawsuits against low-income patients who had trouble paying those medical bills.

Additionally, the names of patients who have had trouble paying bills are often published in the court news of local newspapers, exposing them to public humiliation and, NNU charges, discouraging them from seeking additional medical care. In one short period alone in 2012, for example, one CHS Kentucky hospital accounted for eight of the 10 cases published in a local newspaper.

“If CHS believes such high charges, and its aggressive collection strategy is justified, why does it want to prevent the public from knowing about its behavior?” asks Ross. “Instead of stifling free speech, CHS would better serve its patients and communities by reversing its exorbitant pricing practices, and stop the hounding of patients who can ill afford those high prices.”

NNU is also monitoring CHS activity on a new website, www.eyeonCHS.org.

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