Still image released by the Mexican Social Security Institute in 2012 shows a 2-year-old boy prior to having a benign tumor removed from his body. Mexican doctors successfully removed a 33-pound benign tumor protruding from his right armpit to hip, which weighed more than the rest of the boy. (IMSS / AP)
Woe to the hospital that turns to the courts to collect its patients' debts. It is widely known that health-care costs have recently become the single most common cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S., and when we hear of such cases we frequently regard indebted patients as unfortunate victims, while casting hospitals as greedy predators. After all, patients did not intend to fall ill and require prolonged and expensive medical care, while the marbled lobbies and elaborate amenities of many new hospitals smack of surplus wealth. Who could feel sympathy for a billion-dollar corporation?
On the other hand, even non-profit organizations, which include about 62 percent of U.S. hospitals, need to generate revenues that exceed their costs, or they will go out of business. In the individual case -- the single mother of five who needs a million-dollar organ transplant -- it is difficult not to side with the patient. But if we expect health-care organizations to forgive all such debts, we may soon find ourselves bereft of hospitals to turn to. A hospital that liberally provides free care will soon find itself besieged by its competitors' non-paying patients.