Civilians hit by ‘exorbitant’ medical bills at military facilities

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Democratic Representative Joaquin Castro and Senator Elizabeth Warren are calling on the Department of Defense to address its lack of financial assistance for citizens who receive emergency care at US military installations. The push follows a recent report by the US Government Accountability Office which found that the Department of Defense rarely waives or reduces medical bills issued to citizens in these circumstances despite its ability to do so.

“There is an advantage for the military to be able to treat these patients,” Castro said. “So what the military should be doing is working with private insurers, but also working with patients to reduce those bills and get rid of exorbitant or extraordinary costs that are being charged to patients.”

In 2020, Castro initiated legislation, which has become law, that allows military officials to waive or reduce medical bills for civilians who have received “emergency medical treatment” and are unable to pay. But the government’s non-partisan report found that the military often does not exercise this power.

According to the Government Accountability Office, only 32 out of 27,000 civil medical debt cases reviewed over a five-year period have been reduced.

“Although the DOD has options for providing financial assistance … it does not routinely notify patients,” the report said.

Some citizens know only too well the impacts of the heavy medical bills issued by military hospitals after receiving emergency care.

Last year, “CBS Mornings” national consumer survey correspondent Anna Werner spoke with Alexis Hernandez, a Puerto Rican resident who was studying medicine in Mexico when a gas explosion in his apartment left with life-threatening injuries.

After receiving specialized treatment at a burn center at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, Hernandez was billed $1.7 million by the government. He has since had his medical debt forgiven, but at one point described the weight of his debt as making him feel “completely hopeless”. Hernandez is finally back in medical school and has had 29 surgeries in total.

The MoD has not commented on the GAO report, but the Treasury Department says it takes the recommendations seriously and is working with the MoD to ensure its debt collection credentials are accurate. .

“The tax service is committed to working with citizens who are in debt to ensure that they are treated fairly, receive proper notice, have the opportunity to challenge their debts and that any recovery plan reimbursement is compatible with their financial means,” a ministry spokesperson said. of the Treasury said.

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