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Medical Debt Lawsuits Getting Scrutinized; Agencies Would be Wise to Be On The Ball

More consumer advocates and non-profit organizations are looking at the lawsuits filed either by or on behalf of healthcare facilities against individuals who have not paid their medical bills, and making accusations that those lawsuits are being filed against individuals who might be eligible to receive charity care.

Collection agencies would be wise to be aware that lawsuits they file for unpaid medical debts may be going under the mainstream media microscope.

Most recently, a non-profit organization looked at the lawsuits filed to collect debts owed to Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. The hospital has filed more than 2,400 lawsuits in Maryland in the past decade, growing from 20 that were filed in 2009 to 535 that were filed in 2016, according to the report.

“We want them to stop suing low-income patients,” said a research analyst with the AFL-CIO. “We want them [to] better educate patients about financial assistance.”

A similar dynamic happened last month in Idaho, where a collection agency and its attorneys were subjected to scrutiny from a local media outlet for the lawsuits they have filed seeking to collect on unpaid medical debts. The furor caused by those articles led a billionaire to launch a $500,000 fund to help individuals defend themselves from lawsuits over unpaid medical debts.

Even Congress has turned its eye toward the collection practices at hospitals, seeking to ensure that facilities are serving low-income patients properly.

Johns Hopkins is being accused of targeting individuals in certain neighborhoods, were residents tend to make less money, according to a published report.

“We look to our institutions to fulfill their obligations and mission and values,” said Rev. Ty Hullinger, a pastor of three Catholic parishes in Northeast Baltimore; 143 suits have been filed in the ZIP codes covered by two of his churches. “The hospital has a charge to provide charitable care … and it’s shocking and disheartening to learn the hospital has been reneging on this practice in recent years.”

Are you looking at the ZIP codes where the individuals you are suing live? Can you be accused of targeting low-income individuals? Do you want your name in a headline like this? These are all bigger questions that agencies should be concerned with as the focus on this topic intensifies.

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