Oklahoma Hospitals Spotlighted for ‘Aggressive’ Tactic of Suing Over Unpaid Debts

Another published report — this time out of Oklahoma — is accusing hospitals, especially non-profit ones, of being too aggressive in their collection tactics by suing individuals with unpaid medical debts.

Lawyers and consumer advocates criticized the hospitals in Oklahoma for filing more than 22,000 lawsuits since 2016, saying that the facilities know they are likely going to obtain default judgments because those being sued are not going to show up for their court dates. Patients are put at a disadvantage, one lawyer said, because bills often have errors in them, and the facilities “have a social responsibility to not throw patients into a financial crisis over amounts that will barely affect a hospital’s bottom line.”

The hospitals, meanwhile, provided statements about the amount of charity care they offer and said that pursuing a legal remedy is a last resort when individuals do not respond to letters or phone calls about paying off the debts.

This article follows other ones that have been published in New York, Memphis, and Virginia. In some cases, the pressure has been so intense that the hospitals have announced cutting back on or completely stopping the practice of suing individuals with unpaid debts.

About half of the hospitals in Oklahoma have filed at least one lawsuit going back as far as 2016, according to the report. The most active organization was Saint Francis Health System, which has filed more than 5,000 lawsuits in that timeframe. A spokeswoman for the network said it sued less than 1% of the patients it treated and offers payment plans that are “tailored” to the individual circumstances of each patient.

The report pointed out that one of the law firms used by the hospital network agreed to a consent order with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau back in 2017 after it was accused of engaging in illegal collection practices.

One hospital network, Integris Health Care System, which provided $60 million last year in uncompensated care and charity care said it does what it can to work with patients before filing a lawsuit.

“We may be a large organization, but our heart is in the right place and we truly do care for the people of Oklahoma and the communities we serve,” said Brooke Cayot, a spokeswoman for the organization.

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