Public vs Private Hospitals – Your Options in the U.S.

Public vs Private Hospitals - Your Options in the U.S.

The American medical system is infamous for being very expensive.

Skyrocketing healthcare costs are reported to be the number one cause of financial concern for Americans. This is a very justifiable concern, since according to a 2019 study, around 66% of bankruptcy claims in the U.S. were due to medical issues.

With so much at stake, it’s important for anyone in the U.S. to be aware of their healthcare options.

Arguably, the most common options for you to choose from will be public and private hospitals. Understanding the differences between public and private hospitals in the U.S. is the first step to knowing which one to pick when in need.

Here’s a quick study of the pros and cons of each to help you understand them better.

Public Hospitals:

Public hospitals are essentially hospitals that are funded by the government. Not all public hospitals are the same though. They vary based on function, scale, and funding source. Some are funded by state and local governments, while others run on federal funds.

But no matter what type they are, no public hospital can turn someone away based on their finances. They must treat everyone who comes in seeking treatment, so you’ll be sure to receive treatment once you go there.

It may sound strange to have to state this, as the idea of being refused treatment isn’t the norm in many countries. But in America, not all hospitals will treat you unless you are able to show proof of being able to pay for it.

Public hospitals are not-for-profit, and hence tend to be more affordable than private ones.

Public hospitals are also usually much larger than private hospitals, so they can accommodate more patients, and also employ more doctors and nurses.

But, since nearly everyone with limited financial resources chooses these hospitals, they are often overburdened. So, in spite of their larger capacity, they tend to have a much higher patient-to-doctor ratio.

This patient-doctor ratio means you will have to likely have a longer wait time before getting in. It also means that you will have less personalized care, as nurses and doctors have many other patients to attend to.

Private Hospitals:

Private hospitals in the U.S. are known for offering quality service and highly personalized care.

These hospitals often also have a much smaller capacity when compared to public hospitals, which is a feature that significantly lowers the patient-to-doctor ratio. It increases the time and attention that doctors and nurses are able to allot to each patient.

It also means you spend less time in the waiting lounge of private hospitals.

However, this limited capacity means they sometimes run waitlists for highly specialized treatments.

Private hospitals also tend to be equipped with the latest cutting-edge technologies, and are made more appealing with upscale facilities that give them an almost hotel-like ambiance.

They often also hire highly specialized doctors to treat more complicated diseases and disorders.

However, all these amenities and the quality of service come at a steep price. Private, for-profit hospitals charge exorbitant fees.

Public insurance, and even some basic private insurance plans, are not enough for you to afford treatment at these hospitals. Most private hospitals accept only limited forms of private medical insurance.

To top it all off, they can also choose to turn patients away if they believe the patient will not be able to pay for the treatment. So, while they offer many benefits, you need to have the right insurance coverage or be very affluent to be able to afford them.

Now that you have a better understanding of the two types of hospitals, you can think about which one to choose. Your decision about which hospital to pick should ideally be based on your medical needs, finances, and preferences.

Before you proceed to decide, here are a few more tips to help you make a decision. 

1. Free Treatment Isn’t an Option at Either of Them

Remember that there is no option of free treatment in either type of American hospital. While public hospitals may be relatively cheaper than private hospitals, the costs for both of them are very high. All hospital bills must be paid, even in emergency cases, either by you or your insurance provider.

Since hospital bills can run so high, if you don’t have insurance coverage, private hospitals will require you to pay a large deposit before you are admitted for treatment. These initial deposits can sometimes run up to several thousand dollars. If you are unable to pay them, you will simply be refused treatment.

The exception to this practice is in the case of emergency situations. In case of a critical emergency, you will be taken to the nearest hospital and they must admit you.

If you were taken to a private hospital and your insurance doesn’t cover it, you will be shifted to a public hospital once you are out of danger. You will still have to foot the bill for the emergency treatment, though.

If you are unable to pay the bill, the hospital may have to sue you to get reimbursement from the government. If you’re still unable to pay, the court can judge against you, which may remain in effect for years.

In order to avoid going into debt, or worse, not being able to get treated, it is advisable for you to always stay protected by a solid health insurance plan while you are in the U.S.

2. Your Insurance Will Not Cover It All

It is easy to assume that as long as you have insurance coverage, you can get treated at a private hospital. But most insurance plans cover only around 80% or less of the total hospital expenses, which means you will have to pay for the rest from your own pockets.

With the average hospital cost coming up to $2,607 per day in the U.S., a five-day treatment and recovery in a hospital could hit five figures. Paying even 20% of that can be far too much for most people to casually write off.

So, if you are unable to afford private healthcare, you can always pick more affordable public hospitals for the most basic illnesses. In reality, the quality of treatment isn’t vastly different in both types of hospitals. It is only the quality of service, amenities, and waiting time that varies.

3. For Specialized Treatments, You’ll Likely Have to Go Private

If you are looking for more specialized treatment or consultation for rare conditions, a private hospital might be your only choice. Most public hospitals don’t have the budget to hire every kind of specialty doctor, nor do they have the technology to perform certain surgeries.

You will also have to check with your insurance provider to see if that type of treatment is covered in their plan before you can approach a private hospital.

If you are employed, your employer will usually offer you some level of health insurance coverage. But, ensure you read through the details of what is covered to avoid getting a nasty shock one day.

Keep in mind that not all insurance plans are made equal, and they all have different coverage. So, if you feel your plan isn’t adequate, upgrade to a better one to keep yourself protected.

Some insurers cover only certain hospitals, therefore, when choosing an insurance provider, be sure to go through their network list. Choosing the wrong plan can cost you big bucks in the long run, and can even leave you bankrupt.

The best way to ensure that you get the best deal is to first compare and pick the right plan type, and then choose the best provider for that plan.

But, with numerous types of plans and almost 6,000 insurance providers in the U.S., this can quickly become a monumental task.

Pro Tip:

Unless you have the time to browse through all the details of a dozen types of plans, it’s best to get a seasoned expert to advise you on it.

A simple way to get that, without shelling out any extra money, is by using the Ask our Specialists service at Insubuy. Skip the hassle, and find the right type of plan for you by getting answers from licensed and experienced insurance professionals.

Once you know which plan you need, find the best insurance provider for it on Insubuy. With over 700+ 5-star reviews on Trustpilot, you are sure to get great service and have your insurance sorted in no time. With these tips to guide you, you should be able to wisely navigate the American medical system and get the best healthcare possible.

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