I will do no harm-but not until you sign on the dotted line.
ALEXANDRIA, Va., May 2 -- We’ve all been there. You have a sore throat, a runny nose and a mild fever. You’ve done the online searching and all signs point to a respiratory infection that you know needs treatment, perhaps with antibiotics.
You call your primary care doctor but alas they have no availability and you just can’t wait until the Tuesday after next to be seen. So you opt to go to an Urgent Care facility –essentially a doctor’s office that accepts patients without appointments and can provide care of minor health issues from sore throats to cuts that need stitches. You arrive at the facility and fill out a mountain of paper work.
Most of the documents seem routine-Insurance and Payment Information, medical history- until you come across an “Arbitration Agreement.” Suddenly you feel you are in a lawyer’s office, not a health care facility.
Casey Gardner expressed her feelings about signing away her rights at the doctor’s office. “This is outrageous, I have a college degree and can’t figure out what half the statements I am signing even mean,” Much of the agreement is in strict legal terms. “I’m not sure what it really says but I feel like if the doctor’s messes up, and even if its truly their fault, I have already signed away my right to sue”
In signing, patients agree that they will not use the court system, but instead any arbitration will be conducted by a third party, the American Arbitration Association. A quick search of their website states they are a global leader in conflict management [through] the use of prompt and effective methods of dispute resolution.
The agreement also limits any pay out for a claim to $200,000. Urgent care centers are often used by those without a primary care physician especially those without insurance. Alex Lutz, a waiter without health insurance knows how much medical bills can cost. “ I just got in a car accident so I know how quickly doctor’s bills can rise and I don’t know how I would survive if a doctor caused me a lifetime of bills that I couldn’t get paid for.”
The agreement does offer that you can request local assistance from anyone in filling out the form but the center cannot provide any assistance in helping patients understand what is in the agreement. They also offer that you can decline to sign, and go to a different facility. For those that have educational or English-language concerns, no option is provided.
When asked why he would sign such a document Lutz had this to say, “I’m already taking a gamble without having insurance, I guess it just another toss of the dice with signing cause I really don’t have other options.” As health care costs and liability insurance prices rise, we may see more facilities that initiate pre-treatment agreements for patients. Those consumers who are most likely to be affected by these agreements are often the most vulnerable members of society, minorities, low-income families, and the uninsured. If they want to get health care, they may have to sign away some of their rights