Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Debts of the Spenders: US Patients Turn To Bartering for Medical Services

The shadow economy continues to grow in leaps and bounds. This Yahoo article underscores a crisis area - US health care costs. W/the REAL unemployment rate at 17-18%, consumers are constrained in their spending activities. The debt fueled consumption bubbles of the past are being traded in for old fashioned exchanges.

The rise of the grey market in medical services was also prevalent in Argentina nearly a decade ago. Could the US also be heading in the same direction?

Cash, check or a cord of wood for that doctor visit? As health care costs climb, old-fashioned bartering has seen brisk growth since the economy soured.

Hillsborough, N.J.-resident Robert Josefs traded his Web site designing skills for nearly $1,000 in dental work last year when he had no insurance, and many other patients are learning that health care debts don't always have to be settled with sometimes-precious cash.

Health care bartering has risen dramatically since the recession began, as people lose their health insurance and consumer spending drops, said Allen Zimmelman, a spokesman for the Bellevue, Wash.-based trade exchange ITEX Corp.

ITEX Corp. has seen its health care business rise 45 percent over the past year. The exchange, which has 24,000 members, now fosters about $1 million a month in health care bartering.

The Web site Craigslist says overall bartering posts have more than doubled over the past year as the recession took hold.

People who barter for health care say the practice allows them to stretch their resources or receive care they couldn't afford. But bartering can be tricky, and not every health care provider will consider it.

Some doctors are open to bartering directly with patients. Others do their trading through an exchange like ITEX.

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