See below highlights from an article published in Kaiser Health News. Read the full article here.
- “The American Hospital Association, the biggest hospital trade group, says it promotes ‘best practices’ among medical systems to treat patients more effectively and improve community health. But the powerful association has stayed largely silent about hospitals suing thousands of patients for overdue bills, seizing homes or wages and even forcing families into bankruptcy.”
- “Atlantic Health System, whose CEO is the AHA’s chairman, Brian Gragnolati, has sued patients for unpaid bills thousands of times this year, court records show, including a family struggling to pay bills for three children with cystic fibrosis.”
- “AHA, which represents nearly 5,000 mostly nonprofit hospitals and medical systems, has issued few guidelines on such aggressive practices or the limited financial assistance policies that often trigger them. In a year when multiple health systems have come under fire for suing patients, from giants UVA Health System and VCU Health to community hospitals in Oklahoma, it has made no concrete move to develop an industry standard.”
- “’There could be a broader message coming out of hospital leadership’ about harsh collections, said Erin Fuse Brown, a law professor at Georgia State University who studies hospital billing. ‘It seems unconscionable if they are claiming to serve the community and then saddling patients with these financial obligations that are ruinous.’”
- “Nonprofit hospitals are required to provide ‘community benefit,’ including charity care in return for billions of dollars in government subsidies they get through tax exemptions. But the rules are lax and vague, experts say, especially for bill forgiveness and collections. The Affordable Care Act requires nonprofit hospitals to have a financial assistance policy for needy patients but offers no guidance about its terms.”
- “Gaping differences in both collections and financial assistance show up in the policies of health systems represented on AHA’s board of trustees. This year, AHA board chairman Gragnolati’s Atlantic Health System, in northern New Jersey, sued patients for unpaid bills more than 8,000 times, court records show.”
- “Atlantic Health sued Robert and Tricia Mechan of Maywood, N.J., to recover $7,982 in unpaid bills for treatment of their son Jonathan at the system’s Morristown Medical Center. Three of the Mechans’ four children have cystic fibrosis, a chronic lung disease, including Jonathan, 18. Tricia Mechan works two jobs — full time as a manager at Gary’s Wine & Marketplace and part time at Lowe’s — to try to pay doctor and hospital bills that pile up even with insurance. ‘I have bill collectors call me all the time,’ Tricia Mechan said. ‘You’re asking me for more, and all I’m doing is trying to get the best care for my children. I didn’t ask to have sick children.’”
- “‘Previously AHA said billing offices should ‘assist patients who cannot pay,’ without giving specifics, and treat them with ‘dignity and respect.’ Queried this month, association CEO Rick Pollack said, ‘We are reevaluating the guidelines [for collections and financial assistance] to ensure they best serve the needs of patients.’”
- “Kaiser Health News found that the University of Virginia Health System sued patients 36,000 times over six years, taking tax refunds, wages and property and billing the uninsured at rates far higher than the cost of care. Richmond-based VCU Health’s physicians group sued patients 56,000 times over seven years, KHN also found.”
- “In Memphis, Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare sued patients for unpaid bills more than 8,000 times over five years, ProPublica reported. In South Carolina, hospitals have been taking millions in tax refunds from patients and their families, an examination by The Post and Courier showed. In response, VCU pledged to stop suing all patients. UVA promised to ‘drastically’ reduce lawsuits, increase financial assistance and consider further steps. Methodist erased debt for 6,500 patients and said it would overhaul its collections rules.”
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