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Hospital CEO Admits For-Profit Healthcare Industry Is 'Number One Cause of Personal Bankruptcy"

"We need a revolution. Literally, it's a life or death matter."

Medical bills belonging to Denise Zencka are seen at her home on Tuesday, February 13, 2018 in Estero, Fla. She was arrested in Indiana in 2013 for missing hearings related to outstanding medical bills mostly due to her cancer treatment despite her filing for bankruptcy. (Photo: Matt McClain/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

 The CEO of a Utah-based hospital system admitted Tuesday at the annual J.P. Morgan Healthcare Conference in San Francisco that the U.S. healthcare industry bears much blame for American families' financial struggles.

While assuring investors at the conference that his company, Intermountain Healthcare, remains focused on "focused on growing their revenue," CEO Marc Harrison said flatly that the for-profit healthcare industry is to blame for most personal bankruptcies.

"The number one cause of personal bankruptcy is our industry," said Harrison.

The report caught the attention of actor Rob Delaney, a vocal proponent of the government-run National Health Service in the U.K. and of Sen. Bernie Sanders's Medicare for All plan.

Delaney described Harrison's comments—first reported by Axios's Bob Herman—as a "nightmare" and urged critics of the profit-driven hospital, medical supply, pharmaceutical, and health insurance industries to support Sanders's presidential campaign.  

Harrison's comments suggest the healthcare sector is well aware that premiums, copays, deductibles, surprise medical bills that show up after hospital visits with charges for "out-of-network" physicians, and other medical costs are responsible for about two-thirds of personal bankruptcies, which hit many Americans who have health insurance.

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According to a study published last year in the American Journal of Public Health, the number of personal bankruptcies driven by medical costs actually increased slightly after the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was implemented.

On Wednesday, Axios reported on the latest Gallup survey regarding household medical expenses, which showed the number of Americans delaying medical care to avoid costs began to skyrocket in 2018 after briefly dipping in 2014, when the ACA's biggest reforms became law.

Investors at the J.P. Morgan conference this week also heard from Intermountain CFO Bert Zimmerli, who said that while lowering costs has caused the company to lose about $100 million in the last two years out of its $9 billion annual revenue, "collections from patients" still "have really been strong."

The focus on profit margins by healthcare corporations—even non-profit systems like Intermountain—makes the fight for a national health program like those in every other industrialized country "a life or death matter," wrote Dr. Victoria Dooley, a Sanders surrogate and family medicine physician.

"We need a revolution," tweeted Dooley.

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