Monday, December 24, 2012
A decision by the Indiana Supreme Court reminds us that the Affordable Care Act provides important help even to those who will remain uninsured. Uninsured patients had challenged the practice of hospitals charging their list prices rather than the discounted rates that they bill insured patients. Invoking principles of contract law, the plaintiffs argued that when hospitals do not specify their charges up front, courts must fill in the contract with reasonable price terms, and it would be unreasonable for patients to be charged the list price. The court rejected the claim, concluding that a contract between hospital and patient is sufficiently definite as to price terms even when the contract simply states that the patient "guarantees payment of the account."
Fortunately for uninsured persons, the impact of this decision is limited to past hospital charges. Under the Affordable Care Act, hospitals must offer their uninsured patients discounts similar to those negotiated with insurers.