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Records show public hospitals sue patients for medical debt

The purpose of a public hospital is to provide care that is paid for by government funding, which is the majority of care providers for the un- and under-insured. Since these medical care institutions are considered non-profit, it may be surprising to learn that some of these hospitals are aggressively pursuing payments for medical debt from some of their poorest patients. A recent report attempted to expose some of the problems that poorer patients have experienced with some of these health care facilities. While none of the medical facilities included in this report are located in Washington, there may be many residents here who are struggling to pay medical and other bills. However, there are options -- including bankruptcy -- for dealing with these overwhelming debts.

Research was conducted on the efforts these hospitals put into trying to collect unpaid bills. Reportedly, some of these facilities are not reluctant to seek remuneration through wage garnishments and bank account seizures. A few hospitals in particular seemed to be more willing to take their poorest patients to court.

One not-for-profit hospital filed more than 2,000 lawsuits against low-income patients in 2013. This same public facility posted more than $45 million in profits for that same year, of which only one-half of 1 percent was comprised of wage garnishments. This same hospital also takes advantage of the wage garnishment laws in Missouri, which states that only 10 percent of the head of household's wages may be garnished, but it will then take 25 percent of the pay of the second wage-earner.

The hospital states that it does provide thousands of patients with financial assistance; however, patients are expected to make inquires into the program, which also reduces the cost for poorer patients. Many of these patients end up paying much more than the cost of their care since this Missouri hospital also charges interest. While the report did not mention whether any of Washington public hospitals engage in these collection practices, it is possible that many residents may be in over their heads with medical debt. There are local resources that can provide more information about the merits of obtaining financial relief through the filing of a personal bankruptcy for those in similar situations.

Source: npr.org, "When Nonprofit Hospitals Sue Their Poorest Patients : NPR", Chris Arnold and Paul Kiel, Dec. 19, 2014

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