WASHINGTON - The hospital industry said Wednesday it will consider cutting the price of care for the uninsured in the face of growing complaints that hospitals charge such patients too much.
But the American Hospital Association, which represents nearly 5,000 hospitals, pinned much of the blame for the high prices on inflexible federal regulations.
The AHA said it needs the government's help if hospitals are to change the practice of charging uninsured patients the retail price for medical procedures. Typically, participants in private and government insurance plans pay steeply discounted, negotiated rates.
"Federal Medicare regulations as written today contain a string of barriers that discourage hospitals from reducing charges or forgiving debt for these patients without potentially running afoul of the law," AHA president Richard Davidson wrote Health and Human Services Secretary Tommy Thompson.
The AHA is seeking protection for hospitals from penalties the government can impose on them for using financial incentives to draw customers or taking unfair advantage of a program in Medicare that reimburses hospitals for bad debts.Flu outbreak could be worst for children in years
This year's flu outbreak might be the worst for young U.S. children in several years, some experts say, comparing it in Western states to the Hong Kong flu of 1968-69.
Disease doctors predict flu deaths among babies and toddlers will exceed the estimated 92 who die in an average flu year.
Even so, flu deaths among children are rare. An average of 8,400 normally healthy children between 6 months and 24 months are hospitalized with the flu each year. The virus and its complications are the sixth-leading killer of children 4 and younger.U.S. women's average age for having 1st child: 25.1
ATLANTA - The average age at which American women are having their first child has climbed to an all-time high of 25.1, the government said Wednesday.
The rise reflects a drop in teen births and an increase in the number of women who are putting off motherhood until their 30s and 40s.
The age of first-time American moms has risen steadily during the past three decades, from an average of 21.4 in 1970. The latest figure, for 2002, was released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.Also . . .
AIR POLLUTION NOT GOOD FOR HEARTS: Air pollution in U.S. cities causes twice as many deaths from heart disease as it does from lung cancer and other respiratory ailments, suggests a surprising new statistical analysis published Tuesday in Circulation, a journal of the American Heart Association.
The study analyzed data from a survey of 500,000 adults who enrolled in an American Cancer Society survey on cancer prevention in 1982.
DOUBTS ABOUT ARTHRITIS TREATMENT: Government-approved treatments for knee arthritis in which the joint is injected with fluid often made from rooster combs offer little if any relief, researchers say. Doctors should think twice about recommending hyaluronic acid treatments, which cost at least $100 per injection, said Dr. Grace Lo of Boston University, who led the analysis of 22 published studies.