In the wake of the Boston Marathon terrorist attack, we’ve seen lots of comforting stories about how Boston area hospitals are forgiving the bills of the injured victims, many of whom are reported to have faced tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars in bills as they recover from having had limbs amputated. Insurance companies have also been reported to be waiving co-payments or deductibles for the victims, while charities have been organized and richly funded to cover other recovery needs.
It’s a pet peeve of mine that the reports of the amount of the bills — and, therefore, the hospitals’ claimed charity — don’t take into account that the hospitals are using their wildly inflated list prices (called “chargemaster” prices), not the amounts they usually get paid, let alone their actual costs. Hospitals routinely tout their charity using these inflated amounts, rather than the cost of the care. Still, it’s great that the victims have been relieved of this burden.
However, I’ll bet that some time during the day or week of the Marathon bombing someone in Boston without adequate insurance was seriously injured by a mugger or drunk driver and is now stuck with the kinds of bills the bombing victims would have faced.
If, as is highly likely, he or she did lack adequate insurance, these victims of more common crimes might now be getting dunned for those inflated chargemaster bills. Indeed, I know from writing about healthcare billing that thousands of crime victims across the country regularly face this double jeopardy assault on their bodies and then on their wallets.
There are varieties of crime victims’ compensation funds across the country, but the degree to which there are publicized and their effectiveness varies dramatically. I’d like to see an ambitious reporter find a poorly insured mugging or drunk driving victim injured in Boston the week of the bombing and use the difference in aid extended to him or her as a departure point to explore all of that. (It may turn out that Massachusetts has an effective compensation regime for all victims, but if that were the case why all the hoopla over the aid extended to those injured in the Marathon bombing?)
The rationale for aiding terrorism victims more readily than other crime victims is that we want to show the terrorists that as a community we will unite to mitigate the damage they do. Even if one accepts that argument, questions remain about disparate treatment. The 9/11 victims got a government victims compensation fund. The Oklahoma City bombing victims and the Boston victims had to rely on private aid. How come? Why not have a statute that defines the kind of terrorism attack that merits federal compensation? Have any public officials proposed a law like that? If not, why not? And if it has been proposed, why hasn’t it passed?