Katie Kerwin McCrimmon, Health News Colorado

The young lawyer and mother of two wheeled herself into the ER at Swedish Medical Center, suffering from severe pain after the amputation of her lower right leg earlier this year.

She was in no condition to be defending herself against a worker’s demand a short time later that she fork over a $400 “deposit” from her hospital bed.

Adam Fox, an advocate with the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, said his group occasionally hears from consumers who are facing increasingly aggressive hospital billing agents.

Fox said it’s wrong for hospitals to hit up patients for cash when they are at their most vulnerable. “When someone is in a hospital bed, that’s not what they should be thinking about. It’s not a fair practice. They’re trying to get money out of somebody when they’re at their most vulnerable, when they’re in a hospital and suffering what is potentially a major medical condition. That’s not the time for the hospital to be asking for payment,” said Fox, director of strategic engagement for the consumer advocacy group. He said hospitals should be negotiating with insurance companies, who should then bill patients later. Under the Affordable Care Act, patients who need financial assistance are supposed to be getting more help from hospitals and Colorado also has a law requiring reasonable payment plans. “It comes down to consumers being aware of what they are being charged and when,” Fox said.

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