Laura Cameron, three months pregnant, tripped and fell in a parking lot and landed in the emergency room in May. She was flat on her back — scared, in pain and attached to a saline drip — when a hospital representative came by to discuss how she would pay her bill.
Though both Cameron and her husband, Keith, have insurance, her time in the ER would likely cost about $830, the rep said. If that sounded unmanageable, she added, the couple could take out a loan through a bank that had a partnership with Mercy Hospital.
She was “fairly forceful,” recalled the 28-year-old Cameron, who lives in Fayetteville, Ark. “She certainly made it clear she preferred we pay then, or we take this deal with the bank.”
Hospitals are increasingly offering “patient-financing” strategies, cooperating with banks and other financial institutions to provide on-the-spot loans to make sure patients pay their bills.
Private doctors’ offices and surgery centers have long offered such no- or low-interest assistance for services not covered by insurance or to patients paying themselves for an expensive test or procedure with a fixed price. But health experts say promoting bank loans at hospitals and, particularly, in their emergency departments, raises concerns.