At a time when surprise medical bills from private equity-backed physician staffing firms are bankrupting patients, the New York Times recently highlighted how hospitals across the country are ramping up legal action against patients over medical debt. It’s one of the many reasons why Congress must take action against surprise medical bills and the outrageous charges billed by some providers that force patients, family members and caregivers to make painful financial decisions each month. Read excerpts from Sarah Kliff’s article —With Medical Bills Skyrocketing, More Hospitals Are Suing for Payment—below.


  • “From Delaware to Oregon, hospitals across the country are increasingly suing patients for unpaid bills, a step many institutions were long unwilling to take. In some places, major hospitals now file hundreds or even thousands of lawsuits annually. Those cases strain court systems and often end in wage garnishments for patients.”


  • “In Milwaukee, for example, a nonprofit children’s hospital has sued 1,101 patients since the beginning of 2018 — more cases than it brought in the entire previous decade. The city’s only top-level trauma center filed 2,074 suits last year, more than double the prior year’s number.”


  • “Children’s Wisconsin, a nonprofit … filed 23 medical debt lawsuits in 2014, and 108 in 2015. Last year, it brought 671. Children’s sued last year for amounts ranging from $46 ($270, with court fees) to $20,606. This year it has garnished the wages of workers at McDonald’s and Walmart, and of its own employees. Among them is Holly Edwards, a McDonald’s manager and single mother in Milwaukee who fell behind on payments for her 4-year-old’s $2,242 emergency room visit.”


  • “’It’s not that we’re choosing not to pay, but there are other bills,’ said Ms. Edwards, 43. ‘My daughter has to eat, and if it’s choosing between that or paying a doctor bill, I’m going to choose her.”


  • “Ms. Edwards was making $300 monthly payments to the hospital. But after some unanticipated expenses — a $450 exterminator bill for bed bugs was a big setback — she began sending smaller amounts, she said, acknowledging that she had not first cleared the lower payments with Children’s. The hospital took her to court last fall and recently began garnishing a quarter of her wages: $420 from her biweekly paycheck. Ms. Edwards worked 14-hour shifts to make up for the lost income, but still fell behind on her mortgage.”


  • “David Crumley, 41, was uninsured and did not qualify for Medicaid when Ballad sued him for the $5,418 he owed. But in the seven years between a court ruling in Ballad’s favor and the start of his wage garnishment, that debt accumulated $3,336 in interest. The garnishment took $277 from his $1,247 biweekly paychecks for work as a forklift operator.”


  • “‘As a parent, when you have to choose whether to pay the rent or keep the lights on because your paycheck is being garnished, that’s a hard thing to do,’ said Mr. Crumley, who recently left that job and is now covered by Medicaid. ‘You sit there, and you’re so stressed out that you start crying, and your own daughter offers her change jar to you. What kind of person does that make me?'”


To view the full article, click here. To learn more about solutions to safeguard patients from bankrupting charges, click here.