Patients Mired in Costly Credit From Doctors

“Patients Mired in Costly Credit From Doctors.” By Jessica Silver-Greenberg, The New York Times.

While medical credit cards resemble other credit cards, there is a critical difference: they are usually marketed by caregivers to patients, often at vulnerable times, such as when those patients are in pain or when their providers have recommended care they cannot readily afford. In addition to G.E., large banks like Wells Fargo and Citibank, as well as several specialized financial services companies, offer credit through practitioners’ offices. The growth of this form of consumer credit is difficult to quantify because data on medical credit cards specifically, as opposed to credit cards generally, is unavailable. But credit cards of all types are playing a growing role in financing medical care. In 2010, people in the United States charged about $45 billion in health care costs on credit cards, according to the consulting firm McKinsey & Company.

State authorities and care advocates in California, Florida, Illinois, Michigan and elsewhere say that older people — many of them grappling with dwindling savings and mounting debt — are running into trouble with medical credit cards and loans. “The cards prey on seniors’ trust,” said Lisa Landau, who heads the health care unit at the New York attorney general’s office.

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