Some hospitals rake in high profits while their patients are loaded with medical debt

September 28, 20225:01 AM ET

PROSPER, Texas — Almost everything about the opening of the 2019 Prosper High School Eagles’ football season was big.

The game in this Dallas-Fort Worth suburb began with fireworks and a four-airplane flyover. A trained eagle soared over the field. And some 12,000 fans filled the team’s new stadium, a $53 million colossus with the largest video screen of any high school venue in Texas. Atop the stadium was also a big name: Children’s Health.

Business has been good for the billion-dollar pediatric hospital system, which agreed to pay $2.5 million to put its name on the Prosper stadium. Other Dallas-Fort Worth medical systems have also thrived. Though exempt from taxes as nonprofit institutions, several, including Children’s, notched double-digit margins in recent years, outperforming many of the area’s Fortune 500 companies.

But patients aren’t sharing in the good times. Of the nation’s 20 most populous counties, none has a higher concentration of medical debt than Tarrant County, home to Fort Worth. Second is Dallas County, credit bureau data show.

The mismatched fortunes of hospitals and their patients reach well beyond this corner of Texas. Nationwide, many hospitals have grown wealthy, spending lavishly on advertising, team sponsorships, and even spas, while patients are squeezed by skyrocketing medical prices and rising deductibles.

A KHN review of hospital finances in the country’s 306 hospital markets found that several of the most profitable markets also have some of the highest levels of patient debt.

Overall, about a third of the 100 million adults in the U.S. with health care debt owe money for a hospitalization, according to a poll conducted by KFF for this project. Close to half of those owe at least $5,000. About a quarter owe $10,000 or more.

 

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