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Atlanta Medical Bills Have Gone Too Far

Twice in my last three years in Atlanta – once biking in Grove Park, once walking in Virginia-Highland – I’ve had to call an ambulance for a complete stranger. Both times, the person was unconscious and suffering a clear medical emergency. Both times, I wasn’t convinced I was doing the right thing. I knew they needed the help, but I had no idea if they could handle the bill.

We might be home to the CDC, but the average Atlantan still struggles to get what they need to stay healthy. For many of us, preventative medical care is financially prohibitive, and emergency medical care can be financially devastating. It’s not just the big-time diagnoses. Treatment for a UTI, sprained ankle, or just dehydration will cost you, on average $8,282 in the state of Georgia. Even if you’re fortunate enough to have that in your bank account, that’s a life-altering amount of money to lose.

The medical debt burden is a particular concern in Atlanta, where patients have fewer options for healthcare than they did just last year. With Wellstar Atlanta Medical Center closing, Atlantans lost one of the (comparatively) more affordable options for care. This forces them to seek treatment at more expensive facilities.

Still, one of the most significant challenges facing patients in Atlanta is the lack of transparency in healthcare pricing. All of the provider shopping in the world can’t help when patients often have no way of knowing the cost of care up front and just have to cross their fingers and hope that the final bill is something they can afford. All of this confusion makes even budgeting for expected treatment impossible. Addressing the issue of healthcare pricing transparency is crucial to ensuring that patients can access the care they need without feeling like they’re risking financial ruin for just setting foot inside of a hospital.

The average patient also doesn’t even know that they can advocate for themselves to lower their medical bill. They go home with sticker shock and resign themselves to a life of monthly payments or daily calls from collections.

I love that, working at Resolve, I get to help people–many of them in Metro Atlanta–fight their massive medical debt–whether that means negotiating with the hospital, navigating a financial assistance program, or sorting out insurance errors. I really am blessed to help people who thought they’d be stuck with hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills finally see some light at the end of the tunnel.

But my job shouldn’t exist. We should not be at the mercy of an extractive healthcare system that hides its costs and leaves patients bankrupt. We need policies that prioritize patient well-being over profit margins, and we need to create a system that doesn’t leave patients feeling powerless and overwhelmed.

In the meantime, patients in Atlanta don’t need to feel completely powerless. There are a number of steps they can take to be prepared when medical bills arise, including understanding what questions to ask before, during and after care. Things like asking for an itemized bill, confirming if care is in network and asking for the full financial assistance policy are just a few steps that can save a huge amount down the line. This free medical debt guide is a great starting point. Patients can also work with advocates, like myself, who have experience navigating the complex medical billing system and can help find savings and in some cases, eliminate bills completely.

These steps aren’t a perfect solution and there’s a lot more to be done, but it’s the beginning of putting the power back into the hands of the people who need it most.

Last updated on May 26, 2023

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