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Patients Going Into Debt to Finance Unproven Treatments

There have been no shortage of articles in recent months accusing hospitals and healthcare facilities of being too aggressive with their collection efforts because they file lawsuits against those who do not pay their medical bills. Now, the spotlight is being turned on another area of the healthcare industry — clinics that encourage individuals to go into debt to finance procedures.

An article published yesterday in The Washington Post looks at the practices of a facility called the Lung Health Institute, which performs stem-cell treatments on individuals with lung disease. The institute, which does not accept health insurance, has encouraged individuals to finance the cost of procedures — usually thousands of dollars — either by borrowing money from credit cards, friends and family members, or by using crowdfunding sites like GoFundMe. A study from last year found that one-third of the 13,000 individuals who had donated to someone’s stem-cell treatment campaign were doing so to help finance a procedure at the Lung Health Institute.

One former patient said an employee of the Lung Health Institute encouraged her to borrow against the equity in her house to help finance her treatment. However, the results have been disappointing.

Since receiving the treatment in 2015, however, Rivero’s illness has gotten much worse. Doctors say she now needs a double lung transplant to survive, which would be covered by Medicare and Medicaid. But Rivero doesn’t have the money to rent an apartment near the transplant center for months of mandatory pre- and post-surgery rehabilitation. That would cost about $7,000, Rivero said — the same amount she paid the Lung Health Institute.

“I’m going to pass away for $7,000,” she said.

The article exposes another problem area of the healthcare industry and the impact that it is having on the financial well-being of people across the country. Companies in the credit and collection industry are often placed smack-dab in the middle of a tug-of-war between facilities that need payments to be made so they can continue operating and individuals who do not have the means to repay their debts.

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